Saturday afternoon, President Barack Obama declared his intent to take military action against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
If passed, the strike on Syria could potentially catalyze one of the biggest international political and military catastrophes since the Iraq War. Yet College of William and Mary students were unfazed. Nothing changed for us. The world didn’t shift. Alarms didn’t go off. Nobody ran to call their parents or even went to take comfort in each other. We just went on with our normal schedule.
This is not uncommon.
This is Confusion Corner, and I’m very confused. As students at the College, we are fairly intelligent by default. But the impact of policy changes and foreign affairs has no recognizable effect on our everyday lives. If we are here to prepare for the future, shouldn’t we keep tabs outside our bubble?
The William and Mary bubble, beautiful and precious as it is, holds us in from the outside world. They don’t call it the “ivory towers of academia” for nothing.
At every college in the United States, students spend the majority of their time either studying the past or preparing for the future. Theoretical knowledge comes in textbook form to provide a sense of empowerment and a necessary, yet naive, optimism.
But at the College, we take the concept of the college bubble a step further. Removed from any major city by at least 45 minutes, not much international, or even national, news permeates into campus. Many freshmen do not venture much beyond the colonial charm of Duke of Gloucester Street. An exciting adventure consists of Sunday morning “flapjacks and a flick.”
And that’s not to disparage the small-town Williamsburg life. There is nothing I cherish more than the assurance of stepping out into the middle of a crosswalk and not really needing to look both ways because I know the car will slow down for me. The hospitality expressed by southern Virginian mannerisms makes for a more pleasant lifestyle.
The slow pace of the Tidewater region of Virginia means that the small town of Williamsburg may not exactly be a hub of current events, but it is a great place for learning. Last year, a visiting Nigerian scholar gave a lecture in the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. His first remarks were “Yes, I like your campus. It is very removed; you can really study. No distraction.”
So, we happily carry on through the first week of classes with smiling optimism for the new semester. But, if the draft were still in place, a sense of gloom would hang over the campus this week. As soon as Congress resumes next week, the House will hold an emergency vote as to whether we will take military action in Syria. Even though Obama promised “no boots on the ground,” our military action could lead to greater violence and the need for U.S troops.
Regardless, the potential military action will still undoubtedly have an impact on our day-to-day lives, or at least our lives beyond the bubble. Taxes may go up, non-defense spending may be cut (including for education) or the national debt may be increased — probably a bit of all three. Additionally, travel alerts will go into effect and increased security protocols will be enforced in airports, train stations and on our borders. While we may not be able to visibly see such changes here in Williamsburg, just a few hours away in the northern Virginia/D.C. area, such repercussions will be readily apparent.
Williamsburg provides us with the gift of being able to focus on our microcosm of life here at the College. But all too often, the minutia of college life can distract us from recognizing the greater problems of the world we are so anxiously preparing to enter.
Ariel Cohen is a Confusion Corner columnist and enjoys bursting your bubble.