How did AU become one of the most politically active schools?
“Hey faggot!” was how bullies regularly addressed Johnson, knowing his quiet demeanor would not evoke a response.
by Emily Molloy @EmilyCMolloy In Princeton Review’s 2013 college rankings, AU is rated the fourth most politically active campus in the country, a noticeable drop from the top position last year. According to the Princeton Review website, this ranking is determined based on an 80-question survey. Only four of these are directly related to the political activity of a campus. Can the political atmosphere of the campus really be expressed by a mere survey? Does the difference in ranking really signify anything? In the minds of AU students, the answer is a resounding “no.” Similar to most schools, AU has sports, clubs and offers jobs to its students. But what sets the AU student body apart from other schools is the overwhelming presence of political efficacy. “American University gives the students so much ability to vie for the issues they care about,” Will McNamara, a freshman in SPA, says. “In front of MGC, on any given day, you’ll see four or five tables with people trying to tell you about saving the whales or reducing fossil fuels. You can just be going to lunch and find people passionate about an issue.” Such clubs and organizations allow students to act on these passions by engaging in relevant service projects, fundraisers and attending events with speakers that champion for a certain cause. The two clubs that are best known for their political activity are the College Republicans and College Democrats. “Being politically active just means caring about the future of the country,” Lucy Lohrman, President of the AU College Republicans, says. “I think all people can care about the country in their own way, however they interpret exactly what that means. Students getting involved in causes that are bigger than themselves is really admirable.” It’s obvious, just by glancing at the list of clubs and organizations on campus, that AU is not at a loss for passion. However, feeling strongly about a specific subject only translates to political activity through action. “Being politically active means that you have to actually care about a particular issue,” McNamara says, “and then actively contribute or work to solve it.” Whether AU is the first, fourth or 100th mostly politically active school in the nation, the ranking has not changed the level of passion and action evident within the student body.
read more about johnson onlnie
Photo courtesy of Ben Johnson
Get inside the head of AU campus leaders such as Johnson by reading our “10 Things I Think I Think” series at amwordmag com.
Childhood bullying leads to life of activism for SG Comptroller by Maddi Pariser @MaddiRose20 SG Comptroller Ben Johnson spent his middle school years trying to blend in, but preteens made it impossible for him to go unnoticed. “Hey faggot!” was how bullies regularly addressed Johnson, knowing his quiet demeanor would not evoke a response. In the gym locker room he would become the bullseye for target practice. Relentless children would pelt Johnson with backpacks, binders and lunch bags. Throughout the abuse and torment, Johnson never struck back. Because he went through an early growth spurt and was always at least half-a-foot taller than most of his classmates, it would have been fairly easy for him to retaliate with force. However, starting at a young age, Johnson decided responding to harassment with violence would not resolve his issues. His experiences with aggressors ignited his passion for social justice. “Being the target of social alienation was extremely disempowering,” Johnson said. “Now, I have a critical understanding of how people abuse power over others who are perceived weaker which became my political and social understanding of what’s right and wrong.” Growing from his experiences, Johnson developed a deep desire to become involved. Initially a journalism major, Johnson was asked to write for an English-language Pakistani newspaper about the Occupy Movement forming in D.C. Once he began covering the movement, he found it appealed to his advocate within. He spent 30-40 hours per week passing out fliers and attending anti-oppression trainings, which were group discussions about the way gender, race and class play into daily repression. “I was down there so much that one of my friends thought I had dropped out of school,” Johnson said. “It taught me that we have been socialized to under-
stand that a white man can exert more dominance over other people and his position in society is privileged so people aren’t as likely to discipline him if he steps out of line. “I can’t compare my childhood to being alienated along the lines of race or gender because that’s a totally unfair comparison and not a life experience I’ve had but the fact that people abuse power over one another is something that has an unsettling emotional impact on me.” Johnson participated in a break off movement, specifically focused on housing justice, known as Occupy Our Homes D.C. He helped organize petition drives and protests to benefit people losing their homes throughout the city. He has participated in several sit-ins including one that took place at a Chase Bank. After much dedication and hard work, Johnson felt it was time to infiltrate the system. Johnson, a junior, was elected to SG for this school year. His major concern is making SG’s budget more transparent and accessible for students. He began to do so by creating an itemized budget of SG’s spending online. In addition, he plans to improve the efficiency of bike lending and the auto program through focus groups addressing the concerns of the students. He also wants to restructure the student activities fee. SG can continue to host student activities with a smaller percentage of the fee, according to Johnson. Instead, he would like to see more of the funds allocated to on-campus clubs and media. I’m very focused on material gains in what I do,” Johnson said. “I want students to hold us accountable because we really are supposed to serve the students.” After dealing with bullies for much of his childhood, Johnson is tired of seeing the power-hungry push the more docile around. Being taunted and ridiculed caused him to feel defenseless. He refuses to allow this type of nonsense to happen to his fellow students, especially by their own representatives. Johnson is looking to shape SG into a more student-friendly organization so students no longer feel their government is taking advantage of them.
OCTOBER 2013 / THE AMERICAN WORD / 15