September 17, 2012

Political Theater Disappears From Cornell Campus, Professors Say

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For years, a large tree stump outside of Willard Straight Hall served as a political soapbox for students to deliver rousing speeches on the most pressing issues facing the country. Now, in its place, a faded plaque rests on a small boulder, hidden amid a patch of shrubbery.

Out of sight, the 25-year-old memorial goes unnoticed daily by hundreds of passersby — a relic of the past, forgotten much like the public face of student activism for which it once provided a literal and figurative platform, several Cornell professors said.

“It’s hard to explain to your generation, but there was a time when, every day, there would be some kind of public theater of politics in front of the Straight at lunchtime,” said Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government. “The stump [was] a sort of free speech corner. You didn’t need a permit; you didn’t need to go to the Dean of Students’ office to get permission … It was sacred.”

As the 2012 presidential election rapidly approaches, Kramnick is not alone in noting a lack of visible political activity on Cornell’s campus — an indication of a decline in public political engagement, students and professors said. While many, particularly current student politicos, said campus activism has merely been displaced to a digital sphere, others lamented the disappearance of the tactile, physical interaction that was epitomized by the stump in front of the Straight.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris