I don’t know when Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker last visited a college campus, but her understanding of today’s college student is very different from mine. In her Nov. 26 column in the Daily News titled “Let’s not call college students crybabies,” she makes a number of claims that don’t correspond to the students I work with on a daily basis.
Parker’s argument, in a nutshell, is this: college students these days are whiny and overly sensitive. One reason for this is that they were unjustly praised as children; another reason is that they have not had enough courses on American history and government. According to Parker, these conditions have led to unjustified protests on college campuses about injustice.
Does Parker actually know any college students? Let me tell you about the ones I know.
Today’s student population mirrors the greater population more so than in any previous generation. The democratization of higher education has allowed students from all walks of life to pursue a degree: first-generation college students, sons and daughters of immigrants, students who suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and other students who previously may not have been able to participate in a college education. These are but a few examples of the diversity our campus supports.
Having the courage to challenge themselves means the students I know certainly shouldn’t be characterized as “whiny and overly sensitive.” Nearly all of the college students I know are tough, courageous and resilient, as they need to be to navigate this complex world.
The college students I know are well-informed and civically engaged. Before being admitted to Winona State University, students must have three years of social studies in high school, one of which must be American History. While they are at WSU, students are required to take courses in history and social science and in ethical and civic responsibility.
In addition, Winona State sponsors an outstanding model legislature, which helps high school students develop a thorough working understanding of how government works, and alumni of that program have gone on to do amazing public service. Furthermore, WSU is a leading member of the American Democracy Project. Our students care about the world around them and understand that it’s up to them to get involved and make a difference.
This desire on the part of students to make a difference in the world is at the heart of Parker’s so-called unjustified protests. Every student who goes to college has some understanding of the American Dream and the part of it they desire. This differs from student to student, but at its root it is a desire to have the freedom and ability to invent who we want to be. Until we have a world in which everyone is treated justly, fairly and equitably, we won’t have an equal shot at the American Dream. This is, in the end, what students are asking for: That they be given the same opportunity that others have had.
That doesn’t sound like being whiny to me. Using their rights and freedoms to fight for their dream of America? That sounds like the history of America to me. That sounds courageous to me. And that sounds like our students to me.