By Cat Swindal
College student activists are often portrayed in the popular media as, to use a popular term, “liberal snowflakes.” In my experience, I’ve heard critics comparing millennials to cry babies. Especially after the election of Donald Trump, I’ve seen opinions across social media saying, “He won, there’s nothing you can do! Why protest?” There was also backlash after the Women’s March, when critics claimed that the March seemed to be the popular thing to do or only focused on issues that pertained to participants. Many millennial stereotypes are outlined in the infamous 2013 Time Magazine article entitled “The Me Me Me Generation” by Joel Stein, which provides statistics that call millennials “lazy, entitled narcissists.” With all of this criticism in mind, I would like to defend millennials by addressing three of what I deem to be the most common stereotypes and how student activists defy them.
To begin, millennials are young. Our youth is often one subject of criticism. The older generation feels that we do not know what we’re talking about because we haven’t had as much worldly experience.
I believe the opposite. We are the generation raised on the Internet, and therefore, we know the Internet best. We have more access to knowledge than has ever been humanly possible.
We can find any information we need with a click of a button. This means that, despite our young age, we have a lot of worldly information that we can apply to our own lives and to the lives of others around us. We also have more connections to people all over the country and all over the world. Therefore, more stories are told on all sides of the political spectrum.
Student activists have all of this information, these connections and these stories at their fingertips, which allow them, with the help of the university atmosphere and classes, to form their own views. Social media is often criticized for non-human communication, but student activism often requires human-to-human contact. However, this contact can be achieved in the form of events or forums. And although social media can often become a vacuum where the only opinions you agree with are posted, there is so much potential for it to be used in other ways. Student activists today have the ability to listen to both sides of the political spectrum more easily and therefore are more likely to stand for what they think is right.
Student activists also tackle the lazy millennial stereotype. Millennials are often characterized by the media as being too lazy, pointing to statistics of millennials out of work or physically not moving. Student activists do not perpetuate this stereotype because of the events they attend or facilitate. Good student activists write their ideas and back them up with concrete evidence; and isn’t lazy at all.
Finally, student activists defy the stereotype that millennials are self-involved. This stereotype is often the most harsh, since millennials are usually perceived as narcissistic due to their selfie-taking or apathetic tendencies at the dinner table. This narcissism may be reflected in student activists, as some of these issues may affect them. There’s often a need to be a martyr in activism: someone who sacrifices her or his own comfort for that of someone else.
Although student activists have advocated and should continue to advocate for the rights of others, they can also fight for injustices that they themselves face. I don’t see that as narcissistic, but rather just as a way of garnering first-hand experiences of hardships. These first-hand experiences can be the source of inspiration for student activists. In my opinion, in protests and community organizing, it is impossible to be narcissistic. The work forces you to be one with the community for which you are fighting.
Student activists have the ability to defy the stereotypes held against millennials, but these stereotypes are not easy to elude. Student activists must have an open mind and heart in order to defy these stereotypes head on. I have faith that each student activist has the resources, willingness to learn and strong teamwork skills required to for effective activism and to prove some members of Generation Y wrong.