The past few months have seen an interesting change in events across the country: more people are taking an active role in organizing community initiatives to spark change. We’ve seen riots and peaceful protests, call parties and petition - Americans are throwing themselves into democracy.
But how do the younger generations feel about this movement? After all, as the future leaders of this country, their participation in political and grassroots movements is perhaps even more telling than the participation of Gen X-ers and Boomers.
Who is Gen Z?
Over the past five years, every industry has tried to crack the Millennials conundrum. Brands have spent huge budgets conducting studies to figure out what Millennials like, what makes them tick, and what they’ll do tomorrow. And now just as people “think” they’ve got Millennials figured out, there’s a new generation demanding attention.
Gen Z-ers came of age switching seamlessly between several different screens; if Millennials are the Facebook generation, Gen Z is the Snapchat generation. Their ease and comfortability with social platforms has enable them to share their voices and creativity not just with their own circles, but with audiences across the globe. But Gen Z is so much more than just digitally savvy - although they are too often relegated to this status. In fact, unlike their slightly older counterparts, Gen Z is highly interested in developing offline relationships and connecting
Perhaps even more important than their proclivity for screens is their interest in the world around them. With growing concerns around poverty prevention and green movements, Gen Z is stepping to the forefront of the issues they see plaguing their generation. Maybe it is due to growing up in a global recession, or perhaps their mobile devices have opened the world up and enabled them to gain a deeper understanding of other cultural experiences and plights, but Gen Z is a demographic highly concerned with affecting social progress. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by the Higher Education Resource Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles found College Freshman (members of Gen Z) to be more politically engaged than they had been in decades. Interestingly, these results were published well before the 2016 Presidential election, and you can bet that campuses have seen a significant spike in political discourse and activism since the historic 2016 race unfolded.
Not since Vietnam have college students been so vocal, and so proactive about ensuring that their voices are heard. Supplementing this rise in political activity, is also an uptick in volunteerism. Gen Z is not a generation that is going to post a political Facebook status and be satisfied with their “effort.” No, they’re a demographic that is ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty for causes they believe in.
Today’s students are highly interest in issues surround equality, and they aren’t afraid to tackle tough conversations that ensue. According to a recent USA Today feature, the last few months have ushered in a wave of political organization on campuses across the country. Students are gathering together to support one another, regardless of religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, or heritage. In fact, many students who wouldn’t necessarily have thought of themselves as activists a year ago, are now joining in the movement because they’re shocked by the types of policies they’re seeing unfold.
This rise in political and community interest is a product of both turbulent political times, and as a generation with access to global conversations, emerging ideas, and stories about young trailblazers they are making a difference. Their connectivity online is encouraging them to connect offline, and enabling them to see themselves as difference makers.
How Can We Keep This Passion Alive?
As college campuses tend to skew liberal, they make for the perfect setting for people to gather and support one another. The interesting challenge will be fostering this same passion for activism once members of this generation graduate and enter the working force.
One of the fastest ways to quash social passion is by turning the cheek. Gen Z-ers are fighting the stereotype that they’re a generation of social-media obsessed kids, when in fact their interests are so much deeper than that. Giving young people the opportunities and platforms to step forward with their stories will keep their flame for social activism alive as they leave college campuses, enter the workforce and become residents of local communities. Another way to keep the enthusiasm alive is by supporting businesses that put people and communities first. Gen Z is blurring the line between brands and organizations; they want, rather, demand, corporate involvement in building communities. Gen Z is a generation who will walk away from brands they don’t feel are being transparent or implementing. Aligning with companies like U-Pic to spark community initiatives will encourage this generation to stay informed and involved even after they’ve joined the workforce.