By Tamara Keith
Surveyors, reporters, pop-culture buffs and catch-phrase manufacturers spend a bunch of time examining even the smallest moves made by the members of my generation. Our demographic bubble has been called everything from generation A to generation Z. Pepsi has started focusing its advertisements toward someone named generation neXt, yet nothing has stuck to us and we still don't have an identity.
When UCLA's annual survey of college freshmen came out a couple of weeks ago, the findings caused a big stink and a slurry of new names and re-classifications. The survey generated a whole lot of low numbers in categories like "keeping up to date with political affairs," "volunteering," "becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment" and "helping to promote racial awareness."
Conversely the numbers were very high in categories like "have slept through a class," "am bored in school," "think marijuana should be legalized" and "consider college only as a means to a better job."
Analysts everywhere are touting this survey as a sign that this still-forming generation consists of a bunch of self-centered, money- motivated, apathetic party hounds. Take out the partying and this sounds a whole heck of a lot like the yuppies of the '80s.
It's hard for me to believe that a generation of young adults who have been alive to see the Iran-Contra crisis, the Gulf War, the invasion of Panama, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Communist regime in Russia, the break up of Czechoslovakia and countless other earth-shaking events could be more concerned about beer, babes and BMW's than politics, the needy, finding the meaning of life and making a difference in the world (regardless of fiscal rewards).
Last semester I was involved with a small group of students in creating and running a student charitable campaign. Our goal was to raise money for the United Way and Berkeley Pledge, but more importantly encourage volunteerism within the student body. We set up a table at Sather Gate and were absolutely astounded by the results. People we had never even seen before walked up to our table, asking how they could volunteer or letting us know about the volunteer work they were doing already (often while heavy rain pelted them). At a university where tabling groups and eccentric characters are so common that tuning them out becomes natural, we were surprised by just how many people not only noticed us but also stopped by to volunteer a little bit of themselves to a good cause.
When I look at the campus and surrounding areas, it seems clear to me that, at least in Berkeley, the active and concerned greatly outnumber the apathetic and oblivious. Sure, there are people who wander through town, numb to the poverty, racism and injustice intertwined with our daily routines, but their lack of compassion is overshadowed by the thousands who believe that the "me generation" was something to survive, not emulate. For me and a majority of my classmates, the driving force is not "I have to make a million" but "I can make a difference."
EDITOR'S NOTE: "A Name for a New Generation" marks the beginning of
the Berkeleyan's first student column. Tamara Keith, a junior philosophy major, will be sharing her views with Berkeleyan readers every other week.