Global Marketplace Stifles Youth Activism

By Blair West Kuykendall

Are we the generation of apathy?

I'm not sure that's a fair moniker. I've heard that sentiment raised by politicians, social activists and the elders among us. Their words stigmatize us as intrinsically different, somehow immune to the affectations of abstract principle or conviction.

To call us apathetic, though, attributes a false cause to real phenomena. Undoubtedly, we do not rival the activism witnessed on college campuses of the 1960s and '70s. Our causes, excepting the short-lived Occupy movement, are championed less overtly.

We have been accused of viewing college as a "spectator sport" by multiple organizations, including College Parents of America. In 2009, The National Conference of State Legislatures commissioned a report on our generation's participation in government. The report asserts that voters under age 26 "do not understand the ideals of citizenship, they are disengaged from the political process, and they lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government."

Lack of classroom enthusiasm, formal political participation, and an aversion to rampant protest are all perhaps fair critiques of our generation. Their existence, though, are effects for which we must find cause. Slating apathetic outcomes as the product of general apathetic mindsets is a fallacy.

If we aren't apathetic, then what's wrong with us? Why aren't we fighting "the man" en masse like our emboldened predecessors?

To put it simply, we're playing for higher stakes.

A college degree once translated into a life of relative prosperity. It guaranteed job security, opportunity and a solid future. Not even a graduate degree can offer that anymore. Our economy has gone global.

To clarify, we are no longer competing with fellow Americans in the world's fastest growing economy. Our generation faces a fragile job market, saturated with brilliant thinkers from around the world. Our competition is fierce, originating in nations with educational systems far superior to the U.S. Students are faced with increasing pressures to differentiate themselves for employers. Exceptional grades, internships, study abroad and leadership experience are no longer notable; they have become requirements.

Getting into college, let alone graduate school, is now an exercise in stamina. The college experience no longer centers on the classroom, because outstanding academic performance is required. We are advised by faculty to be engaged in every way possible: leading, working, volunteering and connecting with those in our future field. Actual studying takes place on the fly. With all of those pressures, our college experience is nothing like that of our parents.

Our environment and its expectations foster apathetic outcomes. Our time is inadequate to cite superhuman accomplishments, right society's wrongs, and have any semblance of a personal life. There are those among us who would no doubt enjoy the opportunity to pontificate on current affairs, even collectively. Unfortunately, that requires planning, organization and participation -- most likely unsuitable for a resume.

That brings us to the most tragic outcome of all. An immensely saturated job market has made "resume focus" a practicality. Few people would prefer to rely on their parents' generosity, and are thus thrust into the competitive chaos. Competing usually involves setting aside non-essentials. Our convictions, creativity and causes lose attention. Tragically, those are often the essentials of our individuality.

We are far from apathetic. The constructs of society have transformed us into overtaxed pragmatists. Some of the brave among us find ways to develop and advocate social ideals, even employing frequent activism. They are notable exceptions.

This post originally appeared in The Daily Beacon.