Who do you fight for?
By Adrianne DeLuca | May 14, 2019
From Kent State University to Parkland, Florida, young people play an integral part in mobilizing their generation. What have we learned from history and how have our motivations transformed?
ELON, NC— It is a typical Monday evening, the week has just begun. You find some free time and spend it scrolling through Twitter. There was another school shooting. Some Hollywood producers have been accused of sexual harassment. A derogatory statement was found on a whiteboard in some college classroom. The comments and retweets have already spiked into the thousands for each posts. As you keep scrolling and reading, it is still just another average, Monday evening.
Social media has defined how Generation Z perceives the news and the nature of activism, but it can’t change the underlying motivation to make the country safe for all citizens. Elon University Journalism Professor, Rich Landesberg, remembers the anti-war movements that defined his generation.
“I remember the tension of that era, which had to do with the anti-war effort. A lot of us had long hair and where I went to school, where I grew up, most people went to college, 80% went to college, but not everyone did. My paper boy, Eric, down the block, killed in Vietnam, was 20 years old.”
However, it wasn’t till protests erupted, with four Kent State University students dead at the hands of the Ohio National Guard, that the impact media coverage of a movement became a part of Landesberg’s story.
“Nothing happened in the suburb that I grew up in, but suddenly you heard the name of our town and you heard the name Jeff Miller. Jeff Miller is the boy in that famous photograph with the girl screaming over his dead body. Jeff Miller was two years older than me in school.”
The Baby Boomer generation was the first to really experience the unity that comes from collective action according to a report by Jack Dougherty of Trinity College. Landesberg went on to college, graduate school and earned his Ph.D., without ever stepping foot in Vietnam. However, he did not escape the impact the war had on his generation from reporting to protesting, these experiences still impact him today. When he looks collectively at his own students he says he sees similarities in the motivations of his generations and those of Generation Z.
“Many of the students I know really do want to change the world. They want to do it in a different way maybe than we did, but they want to go out there and work for an NGO, they want to go to the Peace Corps or Teach for America or, or become great journalists, investigative journalists who are going to hold people's feet to the fire”
With the rise of social media has come a change in the issues important to young Americans. Above is a selection of some of the most important student-led movements of the 21st century
Jubitza Figueroa is a student activist who is currently a sophomore at Elon University, but that is only one dimension of her identity. Figueroa is also part of the Latina and LGBTQIA communities. For Generation Z, a multi-dimensional identity is not unusual and Figueroa is determined to keep it this way.
She currently works at both the Gender and LGBTQIA Center (GLC) and the Center for Race, Ethnicity, & Diversity Education (CREDE) at Elon. Figueroa’s dream is to become a politician. She believes everyone in her generation has the ability to make a difference.
“I think that a lot of people have it in them to be strong independent activists going out there and collectively making change. But I think that it's an incredibly difficult path to be on during the college experience.”
Figueroa recently attended the National Civic and Political Engagement conference at Harvard University where she represented the activist community at Elon. She says being in a room full of young, educated activists re-instilled faith that Generation Z could accomplish the goals they set out to achieve in almost any movement.
According to the 2015 CIRP freshman survey, a nationwide survey of first-year students entering college in the fall of 2015, it was found that 8.5% of incoming students believe there is a “very good chance” they will participate in a protest while in college. This rate jumped almost three percentage points from the previous year. Additionally, 96.6% reported they saw in increase in high school and college student activism over the course of their senior year.
For Figuero, this is good news; however, observation is just the first step.
“I think that social media presence has given us the opportunity to have that information as soon as it happens. And I think that that's great for a conversation. But I do think that it, there's so much happening within social media that we have a conversation in a couple minutes and then another thing happens too, then we have another conversation for the next five minutes. And then at the end of it, we just kind of talked. We didn't analyze it, didn't reflect. And so I think that social media gives us that tool to have that conversation, but we need to press pause, put our phones down and then talk about what we just saw and talk about what we can do in terms of what we saw.”
The fast-paced nature of news needs to be overcome if conversations of change are going to be acted upon. Commitment to a cause are necessary if we are going to enact change in the present political climate. Figueroa believes we are on the right path, everyone just needs to consider their own self-importane.
“I think that a lot of students now need to come and have that reflective period in their lives where they sit there and they think, okay, what does my presence on this campus do, what’s my presence in the world and what do I want to do with that?”