Some University of La Verne students were getting ready to compete in a basketball game for charity recently. Their hope was to raise money for the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation, which benefited the National Kidney Foundation.
Three of those students were sisters from Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, and were excited to talk about the importance of civic engagement and giving back.
“It’s really important for me that we raise money,” said Jessica Gerard, a junior social science major.
“That’s one of the reasons that drove me to Phi Sigma Sigma. The international sorority’s main philanthropic cause benefits the National Kidney Foundation. I’ve always been a big advocate for philanthropy.”
Angelica Catalan, a sophomore psychology major echoed that sentiment.
“Not only are we asked to volunteer, but it becomes part of our identity. We’re a lot more aware of what’s going on around the world, and we want to help, because we’re aware; there is less ignorance.”
Those ideas sound much like the ones expressed by the G.I. Generation, which Tom Brokaw famously called America’s “last great generation,” when they were in college.
Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss, regarded as two of the leading experts in the area of generational studies by some measures, say that Millennials are repeating the cycles of their great grandparents.
According to the book they co-authored called “Millennia Rising” there are in a sense four generations in America that follow a cyclical pattern of four distinct phases.
The only exception to their findings is the “Civil War Cycle.” This hiccup in the cycle pattern was because the Civil War came approximately 10 years earlier than war was supposed to appear according to location in history, Howe and Strauss asserted. This caused adult generations’ worst qualities to come through and the progressives grew up too fast.
The four phases are: idealist, reactive, civic and adaptive and are described by Howe and Strauss in their book as the following:
Idealists are characterized as developing throughout their lives according to deeply-held values. Baby Boomers, born between 1943 and 1960, are this cycle’s living idealists.
Reactives are described as alienated, risk-taking, and are often criticized and condemned. Gen-Xers, born between 1961 and 1981, are this cycle’s living reactives.
Civic generations are dominant and outer-fixated. They are reared in a highly protective manner so that an orientation to societal challenges, problem solving and institution building marks their adult lives. The G.I. generation, born between 1901 and 1924, and Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, are the current living civic generations.
Adaptive generations are characterized as being raised in an overprotective manner and tend to be risk averse, conformists, and inclined to compromise.
Those born after 2003 are the current living adaptive generation, but they have yet to formally be given a title. The “silent generation” was the previous cycle’s adaptive generation.
Most of the students at the University of La Verne are members of the millennial generation, and according to Howe and Strauss, live in the correct timing to be linked behaviorally to the G.I. generation.
“They’re optimists,” they wrote about Millennials in their book.
“Surveys show that—compared to Xers teens a decade ago – today’s teens are more upbeat about the world in which they’re growing up. Nine in ten describe themselves as happy, confident, and positive.”
Catalan said that she agrees her generation is optimistic.
“We are trying to find the good in everything and be a catalyst for change. We are more aware of what’s going on in the world, and we get more involved,” she said.
Felicia Beardsley, associate professor of anthropology and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she cannot confirm the repeating of generations theory, but said that the millennia’s upbringing and those former generations who raised them contributes to their civic engagement and optimistic outlook on life.
“If you look at their teachers today and their school curriculum in elementary school, they’re pushing civic engagement and political participation, I think that is influencing what you are calling the millennial generation, and pin holing them in that sort of idealism and more civic engagement and awareness of policy and why voting is important,” Beardsley said.
Research indicates that the millennial generation has already begun to show behavior of civic engagement and a belief in their political efficacy.
According to the National Conference on Citizenship, a non-partisan nonprofit which explores the aspects that shape citizenry and outlines the individual role in a democracy, “The Millennials so far appear to be considerably more civically engaged than their immediate predecessors, ‘Generation X.’ The voting turnout of young adults (ages 18-29) almost doubled in the 2008 primaries and caucuses compared to the most recent comparable year (2000).21 There were also substantial youth turnout increases in 2004 and 2006. Youth volunteering rates are higher in the 2000s than they were in the 1990s.”
Catalan talked about her interest in voting, and why some young people don’t vote.
“When President Obama ran for office, he targeted the youth and it was the first time I felt like my voice could be heard, and I was actually upset that I was not old enough to vote. Often we feel like our vote won’t make a difference so we do other things and don’t prioritize it, because ‘oh it won’t count,’ I hear that all the time,” Catalan said.
The NCOC acknowledged that Millennials are less likely to participate in face-to-face interactions such as churches and meetings, but they attribute that to the advancement and opportunities in interaction the internet provides.
“Among Millennials, gaps in civic engagement by race and ethnicity are typically small. For instance, the volunteering rate is exactly the same for White and non-White Millennials, at 56 percent. There is only a three-point difference in rates of attending meetings between Whites and non-Whites,” according to the NCOC.
Veronica Sepulveda, a junior communications major, is the philanthropy chairwoman for her sorority, and said that she is seeing more fundraisers, more clothes drives, and more toy drives, and feels like her peers are becoming less selfish.
“As philanthropy chair, I’m noticing more students are willing to donate to fundraisers.
We sold 100 candy grams in two days, and little things like that show that students are willing to donate. Just that day, there were two other fundraisers on campus, and people were going to all three,” Sepulveda said.
In a 2011 article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Chris Brueningsen, headmaster of The Kiski School, a private boys’ boarding school in Saltsburg, PA, said that he too has more hope for the Millennials than for his previous generation of students.
“As a life-long teacher and school administrator, I can say with confidence that this generation of students is the best I’ve worked with in my 20-year career. It remains to be seen if their talent and optimism will allow them to guide our country towards a brighter future than what older Americans predict for them, but if the future for today’s youth is bleak, you wouldn’t know it by talking to them,” Brueningsen said.
However, not everyone agrees with the positive outlook on Millennials.
A 2011 Gallup poll found that most Americans (55 percent) said they are doubtful youth today will reach the same standard of living as their parents. According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, It was the most pessimistic response since the question was first asked in 1983.
Another discouraging study, published on March 5 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that Millennials were less concerned with donating to charities, getting involved in politics or improving the environment, and were obsessed with fame and making money.
“The whole thing with Haiti and power plants in Japan made us realize life can be short,” Sepulveda said. “I wouldn’t want to be in that situation, I would want someone to help me, so I donate.”
Sepulveda stopped when she realized that she said “I” so many times in that sentence, but suggested that maybe it is a good thing Millennials are self-obsessed, because it makes them see themselves in a person’s situation and compels them to help.
Howe told The Kansas City Star on April 5 that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
He said that thinking they are extra-special does not have to be looked at negatively. Instead, he suggests adults reassure them that they are special and great things are expected of them.
Gerard was elated about the notion that her generation is not involved enough.
“I’m sick of us getting called slackers, when we’re doing so much,” she said. “I think our generation, given the economic state, is stepping up to the plate and fixing mistakes made by the generations that preceded us.”
Beardsley said that society cannot label an entire generation with one broad brushstroke, but this generation might be remembered by history as one that showed many youth-led movements.
“If we were to transport ourselves 200 years ahead, and we look back at this time, I think we would see some extraordinary examples of idealistic activities, like the Arab spring which is really a revolution of young people,” Beardsley said. “Then you see that idealism spread around the world, so we have these big occupy movements around the world … we see these voices coming to the forefront. The more selfish egocentric actions really get buried, because the idealist movement is grabbing more headlines.”
As the Phi Sigma Sigma sisters prepared for their charity basketball game, they said they were optimistic about their efforts and their generation.
“Even in high school I’ve seen that we’re more zealous and passionate than generations before,” Gerard said.
Frank Elaridi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.