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.