BY EMELIA ENQUIST ’14, WEB EDITOR
Google will autocomplete any query you begin, based on the popularity of real people’s real searches. Let’s do some internet trawling:
But are they?
Generations typically cover 30 years. By this math, Drury has existed for nearly five generations. The United States has been around for about eight. The U.S. compartmentalizes its own generations, especially those born in the last hundred years, in a more compact timespan. These delineations are used, and sometimes abused, by psychologists (pop and otherwise), marketers and the media at large. Generational differences abound, their narratives tell us, and they’re stubbornly in place. I have to wonder again — but are they?
A group of Drury’s Marketing & Communications staff sat down on an early winter day to discuss defining the generations. More specifically, we wanted to examine them without platitudes or vitriol. We’d all heard and had the conversations about generational divides. Each of us, and likely you at home, have read at least one thinkpiece about the Millennial generation killing beloved American institutions like malls, chain restaurants and real estate. However, if you’re looking for that type of polarizing narrative, you will not find it within this issue, because it wasn’t found in our conversation. We spoke about changes in technology, the uncertainty of the future while living in the present, and our unprecedented access to news as it happens. Most strikingly, we realized how challenging — and dicey — drawing lines between generations could become.
For the sake of organization, American generations have been defined within specific birth year parameters. While the year marks differ slightly according to the defining entity, they generally fall in line as follows, defined by the Pew Research Center in 2015:
Generation Z: born 1997 to the present
Generation X: born 1965 to 1980
The Silent Generation: born 1928 to 1945
Generation Y/The Millennial Generation: born 1981 to 1997
The Baby Boom Generation: born 1946 to 1964
The Greatest Generation: born before 1928
These six wide swaths encompass every living American — 327 million individuals at our last count, a number increasing by the minute. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Clock estimates an average of one birth every eight seconds and one death every eleven. These are 327 million individuals, each with their own path, desires, failures, dreams, fears and opinions. However, these are also 327 million individuals who have experienced cultural and political events together. These events give generations common benchmarks, narratives and lenses with which to understand their human experience.
In our small group, we discussed our memories of September 11, 2001 as an example — how much we did or did not grasp and, looking back, how confusion about the world’s new normal permeated all age groups. We talked about the immediacy of access to news in 2018 in relation to past years with equally pressing information, whether positive or negative. Our actions and reactions, to say nothing of our beliefs, to events are shaped by how much we know and how immediately we know it. These repercussions shake society for days, weeks and years to come, crafting shared values and opinions.
In March 2018, the Pew Research Center projected the Millennial generation’s population to rise from 71 to 73 million by 2019, with Baby Boomers dwindling from 74 to 72 million. These additional astronomical numbers point to a truth regarding generational divisions: 70 million individuals do not and cannot share carbon copies of values, behaviors and expectations (for perspective, the biggest 30 cities in the U.S. only have a total population of about 40 million people). This leads to a flaw within such hard facts and figures: Sweeping generalizations regarding generations don’t account for the nuance of humanity, the soul and its parts.
Essentially, they don’t take the liberal arts into account.
“My liberal arts education constantly puts the beliefs and opinions I was raised around into question,” says Nicole Dawson, a junior at Drury. “If your views never get questioned and you are never faced with different ideals, then how are you supposed to make educated and informed decisions?”
Drury’s liberal arts curriculum continues in the same tradition in which the college was founded in 1873. Although programs shift and evolve, the spirits of curiosity, ethical inquiry and global awareness remain, as ever, present. Students from across the world gather not only to learn, but to grow as critical thinkers and members of a community.
“My education at Drury has equipped me to be a productive contributing member of society in every way. It has taught me to be engaged in my community locally, nationally and globally,” says senior Trevor Cobb. “It has taught me the technical skills to succeed in my field, and it has given me the life experiences that provide a foundation of information for me to continue to grow. However, being at Drury has also allowed me to develop a worldview and not be naive in the way I address problems in this country and around the globe.”
This worldwide focus is a hallmark of both Drury’s liberal arts curriculum and the technology changes that often serve as dividers between generations. At their core, the liberal arts and technological advancements are all about communication. The desire to share is what drives innovation and change while simultaneously pulling us back to the familiar. We want our stories to be heard, and we want to hear the stories of others. Essentially, we want to know we aren’t alone in a vacuum.
“The key to better communication in any form is to develop understanding. The cause of so many of society’s problems are a lack of empathy and a lack of listening to one another,” says Cobb. “Generations with different worldviews need to attempt to understand the other’s point of view. In addition, they must also respect this, even if they disagree.”
Fortunately, we as a society are uniquely positioned to cultivate this understanding. We have unprecedented access to information — benign, inflammatory or otherwise. The world is a click, tap or “Alexa…?” away.
“Through the use of global connectivity and social media, we are able to see other parts of the world and cultures daily,” says Dawson. “I think this is creating a culture of understanding, curiosity and advancement.”
Cobb agrees, with a caveat. “I am a natural optimist, so it is my inclination to say that our generations will continue to become more inclusive, communicative and socially responsible. However, people of all ages must work to create this world.”
That’s what the liberal arts exist to do. Through extended conversations that include both talking and listening, we learn to cooperate. We learn to empathize. And we learn that this learning doesn’t have an ending, a final test to pass with flying colors or a terminal degree in playing well with others. In fact, graduation from this liberal arts institution isn’t the end whatsoever. It’s the beginning of a well-rounded and independent life encompassing a career, a community path and a voice in shaping the generational discourse.