By: Via Reyes

For the UPEISU’s traditional information feedback session, the Academic and External Affairs Committee and the Advocacy Team worked hard to organize the “Kids These Days” event, which included a panel discussion in an effort to start a discussion regarding the discrimination faced by this generation.

The event began with opening remarks from UPEISU President Dana Kenny, followed by UPEI’s President, Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, and then by the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning, Honourable Richard Brown.

The panelists were then presented by the VP Academic and External John Rix, who spearheaded the organization of the event and who was also the moderator for the panel discussion. The panelists were: 1.) Anne Bartlett from Student Affairs and the coordinator of the Pathways to Success program; 2.) Jesse Hitchock, a graduate student of UPEI and co-founder of Young Voters of P.E.I.; 3.) Susan Graham, a faculty member of the School of Business; 4.) Tayte Willows, a fourth year graduating student; and 5.) Brenton Dickieson who is part of the Religious Studies faculty and the Inquiry Studies team, and works in Policy Development.

The following is a run down of the panel discussion, including the questions, arguments, and main points raised by the panelists. 

Rix starts the panel discussion with a question he addresses to Jesse Hitchcock:

“Youth voter turnout has been historically low (especially in recent years). Is the recent surge in voter participation a product of Trudeaumania 2.0 or merely a fluke? Do students/youth care more?” 

Hitchcock responds that youth voter turn out has been low but a study shows that young people engaging in politics is not really reflected in the polls. She says that there are quite possibly many different factors in the recent surge in voter participation, aside from “Trudeaumania,” such as the cultivation of an environment that wants change due to having the same kind of government over for a long time and that today’s presence of the internet and social media garners more conversation and makes it easier to spread the word. The important question she raises next is “how do we maintain engagement?” as that is what is required for change.

Dickieson asks Hitchcock if it was disillusionment instead of engagement to which she replies that it could be both. She argues that disillusionment fosters engagement, seeing how policy can affect day to day life

Rix follows up with the fact that a lot of people these days are just clicking and sharing and not consuming or writing original political ideas and information, and he asks if this is a millenial thing.

Willows answers that it is not just a millenial thing, as generations before have been doing that with every form of media. When it comes down to it, it is easier to share and steal ideas than it is to think for ourselves.

Graham adds that it politicians have done a “good job” presenting “ideas” in a way that is entertaining to people, therefore, people are more willing to listen. She uses Donald Trump’s media campaign as an example. She says that Trump says nothing of any substance but is very entertaining to watch. Graham argues that the divide between politics and entertainment has softened, but it has helped with engagement and accessibility.

Rix moves on to the second prepared question:

Do young people today lack fundamental workforce skills.

Dickieson responds right away with “absolutely.” After a pause, he says he will elaborate. Dickieson states that the reason he says “yes” is because the question is flawed. The question that should be asked is “how come the university doesn’t pump out job-ready students?” He says that none of us have ever been prepared for the work place, gesturing to his fellow panelists and those in attendance. He believes, however, this is a baby boomer issue. In a difficult economy, what was available to them is not available to the next generation. They stopped being able to provide the same. Dickieson argues that universities do help prepare, but that it is really up to the entire community to help. 

Bartlett adds that she agrees, but that she thinks this generation is excellent in flexibility and engagement, and knows the importance of developing a whole package. She suggests to keep developing skills in more ways you can find than in school, and to keep a running portfolio on how you’re developing. Dickieson also adds to spend time working on yourself to be able to present yourself to the world. He suggests to shape your life so that it means something to you and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.

Hitchcock then asks if it is fair to give up our time for free, bringing up upaid internships, volunteer work, post-graduate education, all to build a CV and to get a job. She asks, “Is it just the currency of today or is it a fundamental difference?”

Dickieson: It’s not fair.
Hitchcock: But it’s real.

Graham says that young people feel a lot of pressure to have it all figured out and she encourages students to worry only about the next couple of years because you do not know where you will be in the long run. She challenges you to ask questions like “what excites you?” and “what do you like to do?” because the answers to these questions are signals that you need to pay attention to. She concludes that whatever you plan today is not going to be relevant when you’re thirty, so she says to focus on the short term, and the long term will figure itself out.

Willows adds however that she does not think she was the one who put the pressure on herself to have it all figured out, but that there is a lot of pressure from a lot of different spaces.

Dickieson concludes this part of the discussion with “the kids will be alright,” before Rix moves on to the next question:

Some have suggested that students are far less capable than students used to be. They don’t care — not even enough to read. As a professor, do you think this shift has happened?

Graham: My quick answer is no.

Graham says she has a problem with lumping all students into one category. She remarks on her time here at UPEI, and how she has noticed that the bottom third of students struggle more as time progresses. She says there are a lot of different reasons why the bottom third seems to be deteriorating, like the overall lack of preparedness from the K-12 system or apathy. Graham says that some people just need more help than others.

Regarding the bottom third, Bartlett believes that if someone can get themselves into university, they can do university. It is the motivation that is be lacking. She then talks about the success of the Student Success Program, that focuses on helping students find the motivation for university.

Rix then proceeds with the next question:

Every generation since the Roman Empire has said that the next generation is lazy, unskilled, and essentially, “we’re all doomed when they take over.” Is this generation any different?

Willows answers that she thinks there is nothing really different in terms of magnitude or grandeur, but the quality is different for us. Things are just different, with the age of technology and the differences in the way we communicate now. As with the changes that come with every generation, Willows says we just need to adapt.

Dickieson addresses those in attendance with “You know that none of you is a millenial, right?” He explains that each of us is a someone that happens to exist in a particular culture that ebbs and flows as time progresses. “You are the person,” he says. “Be you and change the culture.” He also adds how this generation is not the first generation to be challenged by technology. He says there will always be new devices that will be created, and that no one ever knows the narrative that will come with each generation. Hitchcock then argues that this generation is different in terms of how innovative it is, that we still have yet to grasp the effect that new technology will bring.

Rix then raises the question of the media’s responsibility of playing up this idea that this generation is not as good as the next generation.

Dickieson explains that the baby boomers rejected the narratives that were given to them by the media, Gen X did not believe any narrative, while Gen Y is giving a complex to response to theirs. He argues that the media is not in control of their message, so our responsibility to take that narrative and take control of ourselves.

Rix moves on to the next and final prepared question which is

“Who or what is at fault for all of this?”

Bartlett responds that it is too difficult to say one group or thing is at fault. That the problem is when someone generalizes who a person is as a cohort and is blinded by that, and does not look at the individual but paints everyone with one brush. She says that another problem is if you are a millenial and you feel victimized for what the media is saying. It is a problem when we identify traits that can be handy but then are blinded by them at the same time. Willows also adds that there is a lack of communication for all parties involved in that conversation, therefore issues never fully get talked about.

With the panelists not having anything else to add, the floor was then opened to those in attendance to ask any questions they want. There were also tables around McMillan Hall where volunteers were situated to provide attendees with the opportunity to leave their feedback and comments regarding issues with academic policy. This information will then be deliberated over the summer and some issues will be chosen as the ones to focus on for the next academic year.