Celebrating Our 140th Anniversary
  STRIKE! AUB Students Make History
The Italian Attack on Beirut. Part 2/4
Activism and the Y Generation
Exploring Tripoli
Exhibiting the Past: Priceless
Uncovering the History of Lebanon
Nature in the Design
The Finer Things in Life
A Journey from Geology to Iconography
 
 
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Spring 2006 Vol. IV, No. 3

Celebrating our 140th Anniversary

Activism and the Y Generation

Student activism has a long history at AUB: in 1882, students supported the teaching of Darwinian theory against the administration’s will; in the 1970s, students occupied university buildings to protest tuition increases; as recently as last year there were massive student demonstrations against the Syrian presence in Lebanon in the aftermath of AUB Trustee Rafic B. Hariri’s assassination. Although the conventional wisdom is that the men and women of today’s “Y Generation” are less active, the truth is that student activism is now, and will always be, alive and well at AUB.

AUB has historically been a place that offers its students a top-notch education and also acts as an incubator for the formation of a number of political movements that have sometimes had an impact on the students’ countries of origin. Among the movements that were born and nurtured on campus and later attracted national—and even international—attention are pan-Arab groups such as Al-Urwa al-Wuthqa and Harakat al-Qawmiyoun al-Arab. Student activism at AUB has always stood in stark contrast to what can be observed at other campuses, and has consistently been characterized by its pluralistic nature, which has allowed different factions to voice their concerns in a civilized and democratic manner. AUB students have been in the forefront of youth movements, most especially those relating to pan-Arab issues. These movements often mirror the Lebanese kaleidoscope while at the same time taking into account student concerns. The socioeconomic makeup of AUB’s diverse student body, which has always included students from different social classes and many countries, has been one of the major catalysts for robust student activity on campus.

So what has changed over the years?

Although the ingredients that make AUB what it is—the mix of higher education, democratic ideals, and multiculturalism—may have changed, the University remains a unique environment.

Activism at AUB is primarily guided by a sense of duty toward one’s community rather than just toward a particular group or faction. This is mainly due to the legacy established by AUBites who have spearheaded reform movements in their communities. AUB’s political factions have learned that it is never possible to import ideologies from off campus without adapting them first to AUB’s demanding standards of tolerance and transparency.

While many are politically active, the vast majority of AUB students do not belong to any organized student group. Those students who do participate in clubs and societies often do so without any political affiliations. These “independents”, as they are known on campus, play a vital role in energizing student life and ensuring that the radical fringe does not monopolize the scene.

Student activism at AUB is defined by the democratic environment that AUB fosters. Our highly competitive, sometimes controversial student elections are always conducted in a civilized and democratic manner. Yes, there can be sweeping victories, but the culture is such that no group can ever deny the right of other groups and individuals to peacefully campaign and try to attract student support for their platforms. This opportunity to actively participate in elections is a luxury that students at most universities in Lebanon do not enjoy. Although the administration does not recognize political parties and maintains a neutral political line, it does allow all student groups to freely express themselves—as long as they don’t violate university rules and regulations.

All of these factors have allowed for a healthy and vibrant student movement in a country whose political system is deadlocked in an age-old stalemate. AUB students today may not be living in the golden age of student activism, but activism at AUB remains an integral part of life on campus—and we can assume that it always will be!


In an interview with Makram Rabah and historian Betty Anderson of Boston University, Muhammad Dajani (BA ’72) remembers his activist days at AUB in the 1970’s…

“Our group of students was active as a national movement in Lebanon and not only at AUB…We went to other students’ strikes, and they came to our strikes, and we always tried to organize ourselves when there was a national issue.

The student meetings we had at AUB were very democratic, because the students were the ones who took the decisions.

I cherish very much the education I received at AUB…, and believe that it was the time and the environment surrounding me that affected my radical spirit. I was thinking: what made me be that radical; why did I move from having Kennedy as my hero to having Che Guevara as my hero?...Now I ask myself: am I wrong in being moderate [politically], did I betray my cause? Then I realized that it was the environment created by the books, the media, the events, and the Arab-Israeli conflict that created the mood that radicalized me as a student in that university. When I was out of the forest, I adjusted after a while. Coming back here helped me bring back the memories.

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