P!nk was right: We REALLY don’t care and it’s a problem

This post was originally published here.

Thoughtful, proactive and politically engaged are three words that have almost never been used to describe millennials. Now there are those nay-sayers (mostly millennials) who insist that, “They care.” Well, I’m one millennial who will tell you that we really don’t, or, at least, not in the conventional sense. In this technology age we have learned that engaging in conversations and meaningful action can be done at a keyboard or with a like on Facebook, and that we don’t really need to keep up with the news or political happenings because if anyone asks us a question the answer is a click away on our phones. While this ease of access to issues and information may make us informed, it also makes us passive. This passivity leads to apathy because millennials, like us, have become disenchanted with our admittedly messed up system, and therefore content to watch the world go by on our Facebook or Twitter feeds because we figure that everything will fix itself eventually. This doesn’t only apply to the “big” issues like congressional elections, gun control or even the environment, that seem to be way outside of one lowly millennial’s control. We don’t engage with issues that we can have a direct and immediate effect on.

Louisiana’s budget crisis is the perfect example of this. Higher education in Louisiana is facing up to $ 500 million in cuts to attempt to rectify the almost $2 billion deficit. This means 1,433 higher education jobs eliminated; 1,572 courses cut; and six institutions are declaring some form of financial emergency. For students this could mean raised tuition and even possibly affect our instate scholarship program known as TOPS. That’s just the monetary damage. LSU, our university, will most likely not be able to compete with our research institutions if these cuts go into effect. This change could devalue our degrees and will definitely prevent incoming students from getting the level of education expected at the state’s flagship university. This doesn’t account for other higher education institutions around Louisiana who, at the very worst, may have to close down.

In short: these budget cuts will really suck…for STUDENTS (aka Millennials), but the most we have seen on our campus are Facebook statuses, tweets and one group that is mostly comprised of alumni and faculty. The only concrete activism against these issues have been in the form of protests held outside our Capitol, but unfortunately these students aren’t having their voices heard, which leads to cynicism and disengagement. Budget cuts are not an easy, glamorous or high profile issue and we have students who are trying to create change (but being ignored) and a majority who don’t care because, “How bad can it be anyways?”

BAD! So Valencia and I decided that we were going to get students involved in the process and allow them to have their voices heard by organizing a two-part forum. Part One: Students will be invited to speak about the budget cut and ask questions. We want to promote engagement and not just lecture, so it will function as a round-table discussion. We will then take those questions into the second half of the forum. This part will have legislators and community leaders speak about budget cut issues and answers the questions that students came up with in the first part.

We connected with Common Sense Action at LSU and Students for Education Reform so that any students who want to take an active role in change after the forum has a few options. We recognize that our forum will not solve the budget crisis, but it will start the conversation among those who will be most affected: students.

No one realizes that students, millennials, “whipper-snappers,” CAN make a difference, but doing it on social media is not enough. Online engagement is fine and has actually created substantial change, but, when we choose to ignore the physical manifestation of issues for the digital, we forget that the final decision will depend on us, as students, actually getting involved. That means we have to vote, discuss issues with leaders (like budget cuts) and demand that our legislators take us seriously. As long as our presence is purely online, there’s no reason to care because computers don’t vote or make change. We do.


Why is no one asking students what they think about the higher ed budget?: Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette

This op-ed was originally published on NOLA.com. You can find it here.

Higher education in Louisiana is currently making headlines in light of the budget crisis that could possibly trigger $300 million in budget cuts. Since our governor is currently on the presidential campaign trail and Louisiana has divested more from higher education than just about every other state, this crisis has naturally called attention from all over.

The Washington Post has covered it. So has The New York Times. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Advocate have been extensively covering the issue. Politico did a particularly interesting article on the ramifications this mess could have on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign. Though the coverage has been directed towards Jindal and his campaign, there has been adequate attention on the numbers and the facts behind the budget crisis.

There’s only one problem: Not a single article has asked a single Louisiana student how we feel about this. Students across the state have been reading, listening and watching updates on the budget crisis, but we have not once been asked about our reactions or our proposals. Since no one has asked us, we have come to the conclusion that we must represent our own interests.

We are concerned. At best, these spending reductions will cut numerous programs and result in the layoff of hundreds of people, including many of our instructors and professors. At worst, the budget cuts will be so devastating that schools will have to close their doors.

We are strapped for cash. In the last five years, tuition at LSU has increased by 200 percent, a fact that our governor doesn’t seem to know. Despite the possible tax credit for college students and potential revenue from a controversial cigarette tax, an additional increase is all but unavoidable. This is a frightening inevitability, especially since no one seems to know exactly how deep these cuts will go.

We are aggravated. On Jan. 24, Gov. Jindal held a prayer rally on our campus that gathered a crowd of thousands. In the midst of this were numerous protests, including one protesting Jindal’s proposed cuts to higher education that was largely ignored by both Jindal and the press. Student grassroots organizations are popping up all over the place, and students have even taken to the state Capitol in an effort to have their voices heard, all to little avail. It is hardly surprising that no one has had anything to say to these groups — Jindal’s administration has remained largely silent on the entire issue — but it is frustrating nonetheless.

We understand the assumption that goes along with students and political issues. The budget is a very complicated and complex document. Students are assumed to be indifferent about these issues because they are hard to understand. And it’s true; these issues require significant study.

However, there are particular facts we certainly do understand and cannot ignore. We understand that the size of the cuts is roughly equivalent to the size of TOPS and the entire community and technical college operating budget. We can foresee that cuts this large will lead to increased tuition and in turn increased financial strain on ourselves and our families. We know that if we lose course instructors, course offerings will soon follow. We suspect that if courses are cut, our pathway to graduation is threatened or lengthened.

We seek input into the conversation; our futures are on the line. At the end of the day, neither the Jindal administration nor the state Legislature will have to worry about how they are going to pay for school next year. The burden of lost professors and deteriorating infrastructure won’t just fall on the university. These changes will become part of our everyday experience.

As students, we understand the nature of our jobs and the job of the Legislature. However, we feel that the interests of those directly affected by the multi-million dollar cuts should be represented at the table. Everyone’s asked Gov. Jindal. They’re asking the Legislature, public policy experts, pundits and the like.

Why haven’t they asked us?

Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette are co-founders of Geaux Vote LSU. They are joined in this opinion essay by Garrett Clawson, co-chapter leader, Students for Education Reform at LSU; Lauren Guillot, president, Common Sense Action LSU, and Emmanuel Smith, president, Students for Education Reform LSU.