Upon the emergence of protests and commotion at Yale University and the University of Missouri, and along with Greg Lukianoff’s piece, The Coddling of the American Mind, I began to reflect deeply about my generation—Generation Z. Generation Z consists of those born in the years 1995 to the present. Although some in college are technically categorized in Generation Y (1977-1994), they are on the later end, so I presume their way of thinking will be similar to that of Generation Z.
In Lukianoff’s piece he states collegiate minds are hypersensitive, and how colleges have pressured professors to censor the way they teach. Colleges change the curriculum in order to aid the comfort of their students; these students, of course, are seen attached with a $60,000 check on their foreheads. In order to keep business going, clients must be happy. However, changing the curriculum and censoring ideas in a learning environment can be detrimental. Life entails pain and suffering. Parents of Generation Z’ers have overprotected their children since the moment they were born because of the frequently reported, insurmountable dangers of terrorism, kidnapping, and murders. There is indeed a reason for the sensitivity inherent in us Generation Z kids.
Pushing the boundaries in a classroom environment is necessary for growth and development. It creates free thinkers and activists—but how far is too far? A racist remark against a student is despicable, but if it’s what Lukianoff calls a “microagression” then students should tough it out. Peers should not be allowed to shout out obscene and rude insults to each other, but it inevitably happens. Racism and sexism is never acceptable, but there will be people who contribute to them. Students need to understand how to pick and choose their battles—to know when it is appropriate to make a big deal out of something. The real world is not nice. If students aren’t exposed to this kind of treatment and do not learn how to adapt to it, being in a real-world work environment may be a rude awakening. If something is only mildly offensive, students should be able to shake it off. However, if it’s completely wrong and full of injustice towards humanity, students should speak up. That is precisely why the Yale and Mizzou protests are more than appropriate.
Although it seems like changing the college curriculum stems from the compassionate purpose of helping students, it actually does the opposite. It hurts students. Take for example, a novel with the narrator as a racist and white bigot. The narrator may be lynching, raping, and committing unforgivable acts but it is a representation of the past we must learn from. This narrator may offend students of color, but it will also help them become more exposed to the horrors of our world and ultimately understand how to combat them.
Limiting a curriculum is dangerous because most students don’t read outside of class. In a generation where information is literally at the touch of our fingertips—news apps, social media, the television—we are the shallowest. We are the most accepting generation, with concepts like hook up culture and gay rights, but we are so ill-informed about the world around us. So many young people are not well-read. They are not active in politics and often do not participate in voting. Generation Z kids hear their parents talk about politics in the kitchen, read 150 characters or less opinions on Twitter, and catch bylines of news stations. They don’t get the full picture of what is going on in our country. With these breadcrumbs, they form notions about issues of our country and presume them correct. When sharing their beliefs with other peers, they hold a narrow-mindedness that cannot be wavered. They are headstrong, but with every reason not to be. Their arguments are not backed up with information because they don’t read. They will not try to see the other side’s perspective. Being headstrong means being unable to take both arguments into consideration; it underlies all the friction that causes hazing in high school and college atmospheres. Generation Z kids don’t like to admit they’re wrong. This is our generation’s most fatal flaw.
I’ve encountered Generation Z’s fatal flaw in many peers. In my literature class we have socratic seminars where we try to break through the preconceived notions we have about the world. We attempt to answer essential questions through objective eyes, eyes that have dissected the intricate prejudices we’ve laid upon people and experiences. Socratic seminars are meant to enlighten and gain insight through conversation. However, some of my peers have turned these seminars into debates. They consist of attacks on the other party and arguments over beliefs. Essentially, they argue to convince the other that their opinion is right. Both parties are headstrong, therefore nothing gets accomplished and tension rises. If both parties take a step back to realize it is possible to be wrong, conflicts would not go deep into uncharted and dangerous waters.
Generation Z needs to be more self-aware of their flaws. We need to embrace knowledge and read carefully, and to realize our opinions are not the only ones that matter. Our generation is decaying through the mindless scrolling of Instagram and Twitter feeds and excessive desire for instant gratification. Our mindlessness causes ignorance. This is coming from a fellow Z’er herself. I’m making the change; I’m reading literature and checking the news daily, engaging in thoughtful conversations with my peers, thinking critically, keeping myself in check. And so should you.