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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Ah, Millennials.

The stars of so many clickbait headlines. If the frantic headlines are to be believed, Millennials are the serial killers of business, napkins, dinner dates, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work days, soap bars, wine corks and sex. Whatever shall the fiendish Millennials do next?

The New York Times Opinions columnist Bret Stephens has the answer. He wrote an article on May 17 adding to the pile of anti-Millennial polemics. Responding to Joe Biden’s comments about having “no empathy” for young people and their problems, the conservative Stephens chimed in to agree with the Democratic presidential candidate, saying Millennials and Generation Z “[specialize] in histrionic self-pity and moral self-righteousness.” Oh boy.

First, it would help to establish some definitions. According to the Pew Research Center, “Millennials” refer to those born between 1981 and 1996. Those born between 1997 and 2012 are considered “Generation Z.” While those two groups are lumped together by Stephens and many others, they are not at all the same.

They were each defined by the time period they grew up with. Millennials remember 9/11 and how it shaped them. Meanwhile Gen Z-ers either don’t remember or were born after the September 11 attacks and have only known a post-War on Terror world. Generation Z grew up with technology, which led to their alternate name: the “iGeneration.” Millennials got the Internet and cell phones later in life. Perhaps most crucially, most Millennials are now in the workplace and live independent, adult lives. Even the oldest Generation Z-ers have only just graduated with the rest either still in college or having not even started.

This is important because a main example Bret Stephens cites of “Millennials gone wild” is activism on college campuses, such as the Harvard students who pressured the dismissal of two faculty members after they joined Harvey Weinstein’s legal team. However, as I mentioned before, many Millennials have already graduated, so when Stephens talks about anything involving college campuses, most likely most of the students involved are part of Generation Z. It should really be Generation Z who is in the headline of Stephens’ article, not Millennials. If you’re going to attack a whole generation, at least attack the right one.

But, that’s nitpicking compared to the real thrust of Bret Stephens’ argument: Millennials are immature and get in a tizzy over every perceived injustice, particularly at colleges. Is this exclusive to Millennials? The integration of Southern colleges in the 1950s and 60s was fraught with protests and violence, and the 1960s and 70s saw anti-war protests including the fatal shooting of four students and the injury of nine others by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State. Just as then, ‘Millennials’ (who again, are really Generation Z) are protesting what they see as an injustice and wrongdoing. And while people like Stephens would argue Millennials are doing more to shut down free speech than to protest injustice, I think it’s fair game for students to protest people with racist, sexist, homophobic or generally reprehensible viewpoints.

The First Amendment gives people the right to speak without censorship from the government, but that doesn’t mean people have to listen to that speech. They also have the right to protest speech and drown it out (something Gators should be quite familiar with, considering that’s what we did to white nationalist Richard Spencer in 2017). While sometimes such events deteriorate into violence, which I never condone, when they stay peaceful (like it did at UF), we should be celebrating students for being willing to speak their mind and stick up for marginalized groups.

In short, what we’re seeing today isn’t Millennials/Generation Z being whiny and intolerant. Rather, we’re seeing a group of young people who are fed up with how things are and want to be heard. Is it too unreasonable to ask we listen to them?

Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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