By Kat Kiefer-Newman
Last time I wrote about recent media coverage of college-aged and recent college-grads (the media has dubbed this group Gen Y and The Millennials). The media seems to think that everyone in this generational group has access to cutting edge technology and knows how to use it. The media also seems to think that this group is a major buying power and regularly exercises their disposable-income-muscles. I won’t retread what I’ve already stated: but I don’t see that all Millennials fit neatly into this designation. More, I don’t even think that the super-spenders (using loans and their parents income, if the media is to be believed), is even a narrow majority. Assuming a knowledge (and spending) base can be problematic; this lack of economic agency absolutely changes the way one interacts with these individuals.
Politics, for one thing, are different in lower-economic and working-class neighborhoods, but maybe not in the way one might think. If I believed the media I would think that all 17 – 28 year olds are super liberal. They are also atheists and anarchists, if the hype is true. Of course, that isn’t the case at either of the campuses where I teach. Both urban and rural colleges sit securely in the Land o’ the Conservative.
While many of my students do come from politically conservative homes, proudly voting to maintain the system, regularly attending their various churches and temples, wanting to control the anarchy and chaos that they believe is around every corner, they nonetheless agree with me that many social programs are beneficial. The recent Obama healthcare reform law didn’t so much spark debate in my classes as it brought a sense of relief for many local families facing home foreclosure, job loss, and worse. Because I believed the media hype that “all conservatives” were against healthcare initiatives that provided benefits for people without any insurance, I was shocked to discover this.
Blogger Samuel P. Jacobs, over at The Daily Beast, doesn’t seem to agree with my students or me in his recent post: “Slackers Cheer Health Reform.” He writes that specifically the provision that grants “twenty-somethings extended healthcare coverage under their parents’ health-insurance plans closes a major gap in the social safety net.” He also predicts that it “also might coax a few recent college grads back to Mom’s couch.” But will this extension keep college graduates longer in their parents home, will it allow them to linger in their unemployment, and prolong their college-years slacker lifestyle? I asked my students in one of my classes this very question and they all said a resounding “no.” In fact, they laughed at Jacobs’ suggestion.
My students, you see, come from families that don’t have any insurance to begin with. These are not the elite; these are not even the kids who grew up thinking they would change the world. These are ethnically diverse young people, many from immigrant families, versus the predominantly white groups that the media focuses on. They are working and poverty class, versus the upper-middle-class and wealthy that the media pokes at.
In my classes, I routinely spend the first several weeks, even in my online classes, teaching students how to do basic things like access their student email, log into Blackboard to find what resources I have available for them, and how to utilize the colleges’ databases. These students didn’t grow up with a computer in their home. The media seems to think otherwise. These students are thrilled with their new phones, but often can’t afford the basic data package that would give them even limited internet access. Many of these students worked through high school to earn enough money to buy a car and then come to college with no clear goals or any idea of what to expect.
TV shows on network and cable channels lavish attention on the tech generation. This can only create an enormous gap between the “us” and the “them.” Music genres also reference the toys of the generation with fixated devotion, and no authentic sense of the reality for the listeners. Billboards, radio commercials, all tout this idea. I do my best, as we all do in the classroom, to educate my students not just about my course subjects but also the world they actually live in. It never feels like it’s enough, though.