Report: Shift To Activism In College Students' Political Attitude

This story was written by Sommer Ingram, The Lariat
According to a recent study, college students' attitudes toward politics and civic engagement are shifting from apathetic unawareness to civic activism.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) and the Charles F. Kettering Foundation released a report earlier this month that revealed the Millennial Generation, those born between 1985 and 2004, are more eager to become engaged politically and civically than their predecessors, Generation X. Particularly members of this generation enrolled in college show a strong interest in political discourse free of confrontation yet full of diversity.

The report serves as a follow-up to a 1993 study published by the Kettering Foundation that showed college students to have little to no interest in politics, as they felt it was irrelevant to their lives.

However, current students recognize the importance of being educated about various issues, but ignore much of the information provided for them because it is often thrown at them in a biased and controversial way.

"Young people sometimes wonder why everyone is trying to pitch them into such a black and white political spectrum," CIRCLE research associate Karlo Marcelo said. "They are trying to figure it out, trying to navigate through all their options, and maybe being faced with such bold debates and feeling forced to pick one side or the other is unappealing."

Whereas the 1993 study found college students to be largely focused on individual, causing alienation from the community as a whole, this recent study shows students are becoming increasingly more civic-minded and willing to become politically involved.

"Programs that encourage service refocus students on the idea of community and taking an active part in the political activities that go on," Marcelo said. "We are definitely seeing a shift in the Millennial Generation. I think they have been given more of a chance to focus on channeling their energy to creating change one step at a time. Community service plays a strong role in developing a well-rounded individual."

Some students that participated in the CIRCLE survey indicated that universities provide unstable and unequal chances for political engagement and awareness.

They feel there is a delicate balance to be maintained between information overload, which often causes students to feel pressured, and little to no opportunities for political involvement at all.

"While I cannot speak for other universities, I would say that Baylor has a reasonable amount of political activity," said Dr. Joseph Brown, associate professor of political science. "I know of at least two organizations, the Young Democrats and the Young Conservatives, that are reasonably active. These kinds of organizations tend to provide an outlet for students interested in political activity, while not putting any kind of pressure on every student to partake in a political cause."

Marcelo said universities can encourage political discussion without overdoing it by creating forums for student discussion and opportunities for involvement.

"There need to be classes that focus on dialogue and delivery at universities," he said. "Also, opportunities should be provided for students who don't come upon these classes in their field of study by creating peer dialogue. A peer group could be formed and have a discussion about, say, interracial dating, as a way to exchange information, experiment, and run things by their fellow peers."

In the past, the younger generation's disinterest in politics was said to stem from the lack of information provided to them.

The CIRCLE study disproved this hypothesis and showed that information overload is more often the reason why students become frustrated wih politics.

"Young people are simply trying to filter the truth," Marcelo said. "The array of different viewpoints, coupled with the increased capabilities of technology that get things out so much faster, make it easier to get inundated with all these things."

YouTube, a video sharing Web site, has begun hosting presidential debates through online videos. The footage will be available for anyone to alter to create new videos. Houston sophomore Christopher Paxton plans to take advantage of this new venue.

"YouTube is a very important tool in technology," he said. "Mass media has a huge force on U.S. politics by opening candidates to questions not usually filtered in by the mainstream press. Things like the environmental agenda take center stage, and fringe groups have really put their issues in the spotlight more and more."

Paxton said he believes that the interest level in politics has risen significantly, but that there is still a group of "militantly apathetic" students who are turned off at the very thought of politics.

"One thing we can do at Baylor to cut through that apathy is tell students what politics means to them, what ramifications it does have on their lives," Paxton said. "What we have here is a lack of what we call political efficacy as a result of the myth that one vote out of thousands doesn't matter, and that's not true."
© 2007 The Lariat via U-WIRE