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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Union built for so much, stands for so little”

    When I asked if they knew what the Student Union Memorial Center was a memorial to, 17 out of 20 people admitted they had no idea, starred at me blankly or said it was “”memorial to students.”” How quickly we forget.

    The student union was built “”in honor of the students, alumni and faculty of the UA who answered their country’s call for service and gave their last full measure of devotion,”” according to a memorial plaque hanging in the building.

    If the fact that it is a huge architectural battleship plopped down in a desert sea of rocks and cactus doesn’t make it obvious, I would think its numerous other war-esque features would make it clear.

    Naval ship chains line the walls on the textbook buyback area near the UofA Bookstore. Commemorative plaques listing the names of UA faculty and students who lost their lives in World War I, World War II and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts are also on display.

    Not only can you see the marks of commemoration, but you can hear them too. The student union’s clock tower holds one of the two original bells salvaged from the U.S.S. Arizona, a battleship sunk in the Pearl Harbor attacks. Rung for the first time in 1951 in the then-new union, the bell has been rung for special occasions ever since.

    The noisy statue that sits in the Mountain Avenue turnabout holds 214 dog tags that rattle in the wind, each imprinted with the name of someone who died when the U.S.S. Arizona sank.

    The student union was built to acknowledge the lives lost, so we would remember the tragedy that war brings.

    But our obliviousness shows that we have forgotten.

    It has become the place where we get our McDonald’s fix, our between-class power naps, where we catch a movie and hold our club meetings. At the student union, we mail things, buy things, play things, watch things and organize things.

    But seldom do we question things.

    The same year the U.S.S. Arizona bell was first rung, another student union

    tradition was created – Speaker’s Corner.

    Speaker’s Corner, which was then located in the union patio, was a hotspot for political discourse, praise and protest for many years. Since it was relocated to the UA Mall, the student voice has been marginalized to a small sign in the grass.

    It is now a joke.

    With the exception of the token religious zealot, it is usually empty. The last time I saw someone actually using Speaker’s Corner was three years ago. My roommate and I participated in a debate with two men who we jokingly named the Tag-Team Preachers. (They would pass off their Bible to trade rounds of convincing us that we were eternally damned.)

    But it wasn’t always this way.

    Although the physical building had a long history of being removed, replaced and remodeled, the purpose and meaning of the student union had endured. In the past, the student union was a space that commemorated in the most appropriate way possible – it ensured this school’s loss to war was not an empty one, as it housed student challenge to and defense of the political institutions responsible for war.

    If these walls could talk, they would speak of hundreds of students gathering and speaking during the peace march of 1967 and the Vietnam protest of 1970. They would mention rallies against inhumane working conditions, the ideologies of speakers and the representatives of political parties. Most recently, they would describe the 2003 staged “”die-in,”” when students staged a mass murder to demonstrate their opposition to the Iraq war.

    A building whose walls saw numerous war protests, anti-speaker rallies and lots of political discourse now does not have nearly as much to say. While the presence of political discourse is still occasionally visible, students feel inconvenienced and sometimes annoyed.

    Undeclared freshman Ben Artiano summed up the opinions of many students: “”Political activists should keep their opinions to themselves.””

    The fact that students view the individual’s voice as an annoyance or disturbance is not only ignorant, it is unpatriotic. The opportunity to speak our minds – to burn our bras, brandish flags and question institutions – is not just our right, it is our responsibility.

    So the next time your lunch is overpowered by the chants of a mild protest, or you are asked for the millionth time if you’re registered to vote, recognize that these students are fulfilling their responsibility to the past by attempting to inform the future.

    The student union serves our daily needs, but most have forgotten what it stands for; we are not listening to its purpose. A building that was built for so much now stands for so little.

    But if we listen close enough we can hear the bell ringing, the dog tags in the wind and the voices of opposition.

    Courtney Smith is a senior majoring in molecular and cellular biology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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