Stories from
the trenches

Why do students show so little passion?

International faculty member, CMU-Pittsburgh

In my home country, students feel very comfortable challenging professors in class, and the professors expect and encourage this. I was disappointed to find that students here did not engage in the same lively back-and-forth, nor are they very politically engaged. Back home, students were at the vanguard of political movements and often protested in the streets. I wish my students here showed a little more fire!

I guess there are pros and cons to the level of political engagement I saw from students back home. Public universities in my country are often shut down by student strikes and political protests. In fact, that’s one of the reasons my parents sent me to a private college. While I’d like my U.S. students to care more about what’s going on around them, I can see how it’s difficult for students at this university to focus on much more than their studies: academic work is fairly all-consuming. I also recognize that students at some other U.S. universities are more actively involved in social protest. In fact, on TV the other day, I saw students at a state university getting pepper sprayed by police. So maybe it’s not so different after all… Still, I keep working to get my students more engaged with political and social issues. I use readings that draw on controversial social topics, and I’ve begun to use more debate techniques, to encourage students to take and defend a position. I think I’m seeing some progress.

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