What do police officers, sunburns and the war in Iraq have in common? They are all spring break buzzkills, dude.
Knowing soldiers wake up to gunfire and sandstorms can make a student feel silly waking up to a stranger and a hangover.
When it came time for the students at the University of Central Florida to put their clothes back on and return to class last month, they found something new on campus: an unprecedented level of politically charged activism. It ain't Berkeley in the '60s, but young people are speaking their minds.
In front of the university's student union, pro- and anti-war groups gather to wave signs, collect donations and catch the attention of passersby. Despite the efforts, only a fraction of the student body at large pays any attention to either side.
"We are so far away from the conflict it is hard to feel its direct effect," says sophomore Amanda Mohammed. She organized a dozen students to rally in the student union's courtyard and show their support for U.S. troops. "We are really well received out here, people are loving us," says Mohammed, standing next to a stuffed donation jar she put out to raise money to buy calling cards for soldiers overseas.
She plans to repeat the rally every Wednesday until classes end in late April.
Just a few feet away, Patrick Rostock, an 18-year-old freshman, sits behind a table with students from an anti-war group, Campus Peace Action. Rostock gets a much different reaction; more like the guy who just farted in an elevator.
"Because of the stigma attached to Vietnam-era protesters we have it doubly hard," he says. "People expect to see us spitting at the troops or waving Iraqi flags, but that is not how we feel. I am 100 percent pro-American, and I can understand a case for a justified war. But this war did not need to happen."
The protester stereotype plagues Campus Peace Action. Still, the unofficial UCF club has grown to more than 60 core members and has about 300 people on its mailing list.
Rostock spends practically every afternoon inviting students to talk about the war with him at a table Campus Peace Action set up more than a month ago. He has seen students go from curious to furious when it comes to anti-war protesters. "Far more people have an opinion, and they are much more vocal about it. Now it's 'You are wrong and this is why you are wrong, hippie,'" he says.
Rory Swindell, a 24-year-old senior, is not the kind of person that calls anti-war protesters names. But he does drop by to tell them how he feels. "It's unfair to say the U.S. is only over there for economic reasons. It's only natural for us to enjoy an advantage, but everyone is turning that into our drive," he says.
Tension is rising on the usually calm, reserved campus. Conversations are turning into shouting matches, and those who oppose the war are generally the ones getting yelled at.
This being UCF, there is one group of students that outnumbers both sides combined: the students that don't speak up at all. They are the ones that worry the pro- and anti-war sides the most.
"Students are going to have to open their eyes and realize we are living in a time of war," Mohammed said. "We are the generation that will be making the sacrifices."
Meggan Jordan, a Campus Peace Action member, has a nice tan from spending a lot of afternoons in front of the student union. She also has a nice view of how many students prefer to keep their opinions to themselves.
"A lot of people don't have the time or the energy to be an activist, and it takes a lot of both," she says.
"I think a lot of people would just as soon stay inside and play Playstation or X-Box instead of sitting in the sun all day," adds Swindell.
At least the hawks and doves can agree on something.
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