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CAMPUS ACTIVISTS SAY IT’S HARD TO GET STUDENTS FIRED UP

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Four years ago Tom Price was walking across campus to get coffee in the Union Building when he first saw the shack plastered with posters demanding the University of Utah divest from South Africa.

Price, a political science major, was among about 30 students who took turns sleeping at the ramshackle village for a year and a half. Staying there became a way for the students to become directly involved in the fight to stop apartheid in South Africa."The anti-apartheid movement was the first time all the progressive leftists on campus got together on one issue and really sank their teeth into it," said Price.

It was also the first significant protest movement on campus since the 1960s. But when the U. divested its investments in the summer of 1987, another era of campus protests ended.

Price believes the student protests made a difference. "We were part of a movement that applied direct economic pressure to the government and forced it to change."

But Arnold Rothermich, the U.'s Institutional Council secretary, isn't as quick to give the students credit. The U.'s South African holdings were in accordance with the Sullivan Principles. The Rev. Leon Sullivan, a proponent of Reagan's policy of constructive engagement, advocated that U.S. businesses remain in South Africa and work within the system for the abolishment of apartheid. Despite pressure from students, the U. only divested when Sullivan rejected his own policies in 1987 and called for total divestment in South Africa.

Goals met, protest fizzles

When the divestment issue was resolved, the anti-apartheid movement on campus died, as did similar protests on other campuses across the country, said Michael Sapperstein, a graduate economics student and founder of the Coalition Against Apartheid.

Organizers say one reason the effort lost steam was because divestment was its major goal. "Things fizzled out, which was not unexpected, because people spent 24 hours a day up there for the better part of a year. It takes a lot out of somebody," Price said.

Student activists say it's hard to get classmates involved in political causes. Price said Utah students are politically and geographically isolated and don't believe they can make a difference.

Last spring, Price helped organize a new campus organization, the Progressive Student Union, which he hopes will serve as an umbrella group to bring together student activists with different causes. Some of the group's issues include the environment and Utah's education crisis.

"There has been no structure on campus. That means when an issue is resolved, all those people and all that energy is lost," he said.

Tough getting students involved

Campus organizers say mobilizing a generation of apathetic students isn't easy. Some crises don't happen according to the academic calendar.

"It isn't like a hobby," Sapperstein said. "When the U.S. invaded Panama during Christmas break it was not a convenient time to plan a rally."

College activists face many obstacles. During the school year, they are busy taking exams, working at second jobs or preparing for post-college lives. It is difficult to find the time to fight society's ills. Often by the time students become familiar with certain political issues, it is time for them to graduate.

Sapperstein plans to remain involved in political causes, but he worries about juggling his activism with his other responsibilities. He protested America's involvement in Central America before the anti-apartheid movement. Since then, he's protested at the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada.

Miles Parker, another former anti-apartheid protester, says he has found it difficult to get involved with another cause. "When you work so hard for so long on something like that and end up resolving it, it is hard to get that energy level back."

Price said he is surprised now at how involved U. students were with the apartheid issue. But the U. was part of a national movement, at a time when South Africa was prominent in the news.

The shanties served as a backdrop for student protests. In addition, their location at the center of campus forced students to make a decision about divestment. "It was hard to avoid them. You couldn't ignore the issue," he said.

Even Alan Chandler, founder of Students Against Apartheid and one of the masterminds of the shanty protest, said he believes protesting is an effective way to keep issues in the public arena. But believes students have more say in political matters if they become counselors and advisors to people in power - people like George Bush and U. president Chase Peterson.

"The inside track is where you want to be to change things," he said.