By Elizabeth Gaffron
When a trio of students became pessimistic about student and federal government, they looked no further than the past for an answer. They formed a local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society this semester to battle what the group considers the enemies of democracy.
The national organization was active from 1962 to 1969 in promoting civil rights and anti-war causes. In the past year, SDS has established more than 150 chapters and attracted an estimated 1,000 members, according to its national Web site.
At IUP, students Cole Hood (senior, sociology/religious studies), Denise Real (senior, psychology) and Nick Posey (junior, political science) took notice and started a chapter here.
The group has grown to about 40 members, but enthusiasm has tapered off, Posey said in a recent interview.
At its peak, IUP SDS members led an Oct. 5 anti-George Bush rally outside Leonard Hall and expressed opposition to the impending arming of campus police at a Student Government Association-sponsored public forum the same week
“I think there was a very good response to the rally,” said SDS advisor and math professor Daniel Look in a Dec. 4 interview at his Stright Hall office. “Some people came to the meeting that next night specifically because they disagreed with the SDS. But they wanted to talk about it, and it ended up going quite well.
“That gave me hope,” Look continued. “I liked that: the idea of being able to discuss differences as opposed to people yelling and fighting and arguing.”
SDS members expressed political differences closer to home – specifically, with student governance at IUP. In a Nov. 15 interview at the Commonplace Coffeehouse, Posey said the group is critical of the IUP’s Student Government Association.
“The SGA is really just a way for students to fill up their resume without having to really do anything,” said Posey. “I think the Council of Trustees likes it that way.”
Posey described the council as an “oligarchy.”
Outspokenness and confrontation are SDS trademarks. At the Oct. 9 Speak up, IUP! Forum on the arming of campus police, SDS leader Hood interrupted speakers and other students and shouted his opposition to guns.
Posey responded to charges that the group is too confrontational.
“You don’t get results from just sitting back and hoping that things change,” Posey said. “Simply working within a system doesn’t work. There’s no outlet for real change on this campus, other than protesting. We can sign petitions all we want, but they don’t have to listen to us if they don’t want to.”
SGA President Patrick Barnacle (senior, economics) responded to SDS criticism in a Nov. 20 interview in his office at the HUB. He said the trustees’ power is provided under a 1982 state law. And he defended the SGA
“We require of our members a considerable amount of work, which is one of the main reasons we have trouble maintaining membership,” Barnacle said. “Every person that comes in here has to take on a rather large burden just to stay in.”
Barnacle said he hadn’t been aware of SDS’s anti-gun stand prior to the Oct. 9 public forum.
“They hadn’t come to me formally of [at all,]” he said. “I requested them to send me an e-mail with comments I could give to the president. But they never followed through.”
In recent weeks, the group has been less active. A Dec. 4 Voices for Peace forum about the arming of the campus police drew no SDS members.
“SDS had a lot of energy at the beginning of the semester, but it has since tapered off dramatically,” said Real through e-mail. “Considering it is a new group, it didn’t seem to have the internal structure yet to maintain its own energy. We had a lot of people show up at the first few meetings, but it just didn’t maintain. I really don’t know why right now.”
Professor Look said he thinks the SDS will stick around on a national level for a while. He isn’t sure about the fate of IUP’s chapter.
“I think they did some very positive things this last semester,” he said. “Whether or not it continues and how the campus receives it, I’m not sure of yet.”
Sidebar: For more information
Students for a Democratic Society
SDS is a student group that opposes the Iraq war and works for national and local change.
Post Office Box 40921, New York, NY 10304
IUP chapter: http://studentsforademocraticsociety.org/iup/
Nicolas Posey: N.O.Posey@iup.edu
Cole Hood: C.S.Hood@iup.edu
Denise Real: D.M.Real@iup.edu
Meetings held Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. in 118 Leonard Hall.