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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

Opinion | Die on every hill you can

A+protester+holds+a+%E2%80%9CFree+Palestine%E2%80%9D+sign+at+the+%E2%80%9CHands+Off+Yemen%E2%80%9D+protest+on+January+15th.
Nate Yonamine | Assistant Visual Editor
A protester holds a “Free Palestine” sign at the “Hands Off Yemen” protest on January 15th.

As those of us graduating at the end of the month consider our post-college futures, not one of Gaza’s universities is left standing. It feels impossible not to think about that while walking through these academic buildings and streets filled with students, wondering what those same environments sound like there — if they are entirely silent now, if they bear any trace of the generations of students and faculty that passed through their halls. 

What happened to their work? What happened to those libraries? To every unsubmitted paper or thesis, to every assignment left unfinished on a computer, to every cap and gown for entire classes of students who will never receive their diplomas? When a military does everything to destroy a people, even targeting their academic centers and their intellectuals, we must recognize that behavior for what it is — a genocidal attempt to eliminate any evidence of life, even ideas.

By promoting a culture of silence that refuses to recognize Palestinian suffering, universities are part of the problem. Celebrating and encouraging participation in the military-industrial complex with nauseating ease only ensures that there are more and more young people who will leave these halls and throw their lives away while they brutalize innocents over this country’s oil interests. 

The academic normalization of state-sanctioned and -sponsored violence is not limited to an obsession with the military. At career fairs and competitions, they invite tech giants that build and design drones, weapons developers and police departments. At every step of the way, you are encouraged to believe that participation in these systems of oppression is a neutral act — through the classes you take in which professors refuse to critically examine the material, through the non-profits they encourage you to work at with IMF funding and the cartoonishly rich and exploitative commencement speakers they invite to see you off into the “adult world.”

In these acts, universities are trying to convince us of one thing — that our ability to be independent, self-sufficient adults who live with dignity and autonomy relies on our willingness to participate in an individualistic, apathetic society that sees the majority of the world’s population as invisible collateral damage. 

Please do not forget that as we agonize over which jobs might pay us something close to a livable wage, our tax dollars are depriving Palestinians of water. Do not forget that it is not an innocent consequence that we do not have free healthcare, maternity leave, good public education, adequate help for those experiencing homelessness or systems in place to support the elderly. The money that could have gone to those programs is funding wars.

These two things can be true at once — the future we were promised has gone up in flames as part of a series of long-term consequences to Reaganomics, and the bulk of the paths that we may take are stark in comparison to those available to the rest of the world as a consequence of this country’s brutality. 

Do not make yourself blind to this fact. Do not try to convince yourself that by participating marginally in these systems, you will make enough money to one day do something else or that you and your commitment to sincerity will somehow “change them from inside.” Propaganda rag newspapers and neoliberal NGOs do not need reform. That will only legitimize their presence and increase their ability to perform progressiveness. Do not give up your professional aspirations for such a miserable task. We cannot be so arrogant as to think that our particular brand of idealism is enough to contend with the sheer apathy and greed that keeps these industries afloat.

Maybe some of us, myself included, will be working in food service and childcare long past the point where it becomes “shameful,” and maybe we will look at the “real” lives happening around us with pangs of envy. Maybe, in the best of scenarios, we will find jobs that do not profit off of the exploitation of others or ensure that it will continue. We’ll never make a lot of money, and we will probably never have the desired impact on these conditions that we hope for.

But it will be worth it if only to know that we are protecting some essential humanity within ourselves. Do not go work for a newspaper that punishes accuracy in its areas of vested interest. Do not go work for an international body that protects abusers with impunity. Do not spend this one beautiful life you have ignoring or increasing the violence that defines the lives of so many. To willfully deny or participate in the suffering of others is such an extreme sort of self-inflicted violence, the consequences of which will never leave you. 

Join every movement that you believe in, and help them in “un-glamorous” ways. Make phone calls and send emails and picket, even if it’s just you and five other people in their sixties. Help raise money for people who need it, and try to find ways to participate in building better systems for them. Ultimately, though I am fully not in a position to give advice, as a 21-year-old with no clear path ahead who is wary of adding to the sea of bad 20-something advice out there, this is the one thing I know to be true, to be worth doing. 

Participate as much as you can. Even if, to start, it’s just to annoy your conservative relatives, if you have them, make them realize that the child they loved has grown into an adult who is deeply saddened by the choices and the prejudice they live with. Let friendships fall apart over politics. Take a long, hard look at them, and ask yourself if it is worth it to maintain relationships with people who do not have the necessary backbone to confront brutality, or even to stop defending it. 

Quit your shitty, evil job. Try and participate in union efforts, if you think the job might be worth saving. Discuss your salaries and the conditions you work in. Make the “silly,” principled stances — avoid products put out by violent companies, don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, find a new church or leave entirely when the priest won’t stop condemning abortion. 

Let your heart break, over and over, for those who are gone — to mourn as a witness is not a hardship but a crucial first step. Every life stamped out by these militaries, by these state security forces, by these systems that prop these forces up and look to them for queues on how to treat the vulnerable, each and every one of them was worth an incalculable amount. Grieving their absence ensures the necessary honesty to commit to fighting for those who are still here. There will never be a time when brutality at this scale should not appall us and push us toward action. 

Please understand that apathy eventually becomes a solitary experience, and that collective action, collective grief, love and expectations, while difficult to maintain sometimes, carry within them the promise of a life lived in tandem. There is no real loneliness with a shared hope for a better world. 

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Senior Staff Columnist
Sofia Uriagereka is a senior majoring in Anthropology. She writes primarily about politics, both domestic and international.