What’s the Issue?
First off, it’s not ‘suddenly’ at all. From
Hesiod to Robert Louis Stevenson, older generations have always taken pot shots at their juniors. But what’s the justification this time?
Basically, the grown-ups think students are all hyper-sensitive moaners. They think they’re self-entitled, overly touchy, short-fused children who can’t deal with the opposing opinions of others. What’s more, they’re far too
“As I argue in my new book -
I Find That Offensive! - Generation Snowflake believe it’s their right to be protected from anything they might find unpalatable,” writes the professional provocateuse Claire Fox in the Daily Mail. “Students demand that universities are ‘safe spaces’, free from opinions that will make them feel uncomfortable… We need a younger generation that’s prepared to grow a backbone.”
And so, last year, ‘snowflake generation’ was added to the Collins English Dictionary’s words of the year, alongside ‘hygge’ and ‘Brexit’.
Recent political events – not least last year’s referendum and U.S. presidential election – have seemed to pit young against old. The world has changed a great deal since our parents were young. The according rise in no-platforming and fall in youth crime has led to the coining of a derisive term that paints today’s youth as ‘new fogeys’.
And it does seem that students are obsessed with their own feelings. They demand ‘safe spaces’ – places in which to nurse the bruises that the cruel world deals them. They petition for improved mental healthcare. They no-platform speakers with whose opinions they are convinced they can never agree.
Universities can barely keep up, though they try. The news is full of trigger warning stories: theology departments cautioning students re:
images of Christ’s crucifixion, or warnings to forensic science scholars that they may have to examine bloody scenarios. You may as well counsel English students against reading words. No wonder our parents roll their eyes.
But the general rage of the media causes as many problems as it catalogues. All student activism has become bait for detractors – even the justifiable stuff. When the SOAS student union recently campaigned to increase the number of non-white philosophers on their courses – this from a school of
Oriental and African Studies – the papers ridiculed them. “It’s political correctness gone mad!” the pundits cried. Or an effort to authenticate a £9000-a-year education?
What are the Snowflakes Saying?
Snowflakes may be moaners, but they’ve got some reason to be. The Baby Boomers did well out of the rising economy. They walked into good jobs, bought their houses and basically made the world the way they saw it. But in these post-crash, post-internet days, it’s harder to get a job, to buy property and to make mistakes in anonymity.
Mental health campaigns may draw derision from the older gen, but they’ve got strong facts to back them up. According to a
2015 NSPCC poll, four out of five people aged 18-21 either know someone who has self-harmed or have done so themselves. Millennials are more financially dependent than those gone before, with less than a fifth not receiving any help from their parents. No wonder they’re more anti-consumerist.
“You can choose to see ‘generation snowflake’ as a bunch of wimps,”
writes Deborah Ore of the Guardian, “or you can observe that there is plenty going on in the world to traumatise a sensitive child – or adult. Then you can think a bit about how traumatised people make bad decisions, and conclude that the aggression, the fear, the shame, the self-harm – it has to stop.”
So What’s the Upshot?
So is it fair to say that modern-day students are delicate, precious, over-sensitive little snowflakes? Of course not.
The sad fact is that, until you have graduated, got a real job and experienced life as a financially independent being, adults are unlikely to respect your views. You live at home in the holidays, go abroad with your parents and operate within an institution of similarly aged individuals that basically equates to school.
Nobody’s saying you shouldn’t stick to your principles. Nobody’s saying that sexism, racism and (yes!) ageism aren’t the scourges of modern society. But all efforts to alter the status quo must be approached with a certain subtlety. You won’t change anyone’s mind by pushing them off a platform, just as you won’t find the real world as accommodating to your way of thinking as your fellow students.
So go ahead with your present efforts. The world won’t change itself. Just be sure to save some opinions for a time when grown-ups will actually listen to you – that is, post-graduation. Then, my friends, shall the true snowstorm come.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice . To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs , visit their website.