Swarthmore’s role in answering Kristof’s call to action

For those of us who attended eminent journalist Nicholas Kristof’s lecture this past Monday, the general sense of inspiration may still linger heavily in our immediate atmosphere. The talk, entitled “A Call to Action,” was a rhetorical catalyst for social activism. Kristof told harrowing tales of sex trafficking in Cambodia, disease in the Congo and mass rape in Darfur to an engrossed and incited audience. As the event came to a close, LPAC was abuzz with serious conversation about some very serious topics.

But will the dialogue endure more than a week?

Swarthmore students are not naive. We get that becoming engaged in the world is a core principle of our basic ethos. We understand that there are truly atrocious things that happen not only abroad, but also in our extended backyard. Most of all, we really are interested in making some sort of difference, regardless of scale.

But we are also short-spanned. Stretched thin by what feels like the absolute maximum responsibility, profound commitments to social causes are only warranted when they manage to fit conveniently and strategically into our daily lives. However, we are susceptible to transient bouts of intense and sincere engagement along the way.

What’s important is that we not let Mr. Kristof’s call to action become just another brief conversation to be added to what is our already extensive undergraduate bucket list of “things to think about.” To look inward, discover what we are sincerely passionate about and what very immensely moves us and then to act on that cause cannot and should not be a momentary consideration, lost among homework and infinite other obligations. These are the years meant for that very undertaking.

Social activism is packaged in many ways. Just as Mr. Kristof said, you don’t have to go to Africa to make a change. Nor do you have to join the local chapter of an aid organization, spend a few hours volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donate some indiscernible amount of money to any or every charity. While all of those things are ideal, commendable and worthwhile, at the end of the day, their capacity to reflect your personal concern for an issue is the only factor that really matters.

So take the time to figure out what unquestionably galvanizes you to do something for the world, or even just for Philadelphia. Whatever that is, take advantage of the resources that we have at our disposal and go forth. It all counts: devoting time to local community service, bringing attention to a particular cause by reporting for campus media and even spending a semester in some place foreign and, as Mr. Kristof encouraged, immensely “overwhelming.” The vital condition is that we just do it (at risk of plagiarizing Nike) with the belief that it bears weight, even if only in some seemingly inconsequential way.

The call to action is ringing. Answer.

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