Laura Eurich is an Associate Chair, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Internship Director for the Department of Communications at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She is also currently serving as project lead on our upcoming Food Access Project.
When I was asked to speak to the Pikes Peak chapter of the Public Relations Society of America about today’s public relations students, I said, “Sure!” I know students. I’ve been teaching full time for 17 years – and I was in and out of classrooms for a decade before that.
What I realized as I thought about today’s students – the so-called Gen Z or iGen – is that I’ve now taught three generations of students. I’m Generation X and as a 22-year-old graduate student, I was teaching my peers. When I returned to full time teaching in 2002, the classrooms were filled with Millennials. And now, this new generation.
As much as each generation differs from the one prior – if they didn’t we wouldn’t need to define generations, would we? – they have more in common than we acknowledge.
Gen X were the slackers, now we are barely a blip on any radars, and best I can tell society didn’t entirely crumble as we aged. Millennials are now parents, employees, business owners – and aside from the fact that they are blamed for the demise of one thing after another (canned tuna, napkins, wine corks, soap bars and relationships are on the list of things that Millennials have killed), the concerns about their generation have been replaced as we now worry about the next generation.
The iGen? They are the true digital natives and they might lack focus having grown up in the digital world where messages top out at 280 characters and communication comes via photos and filters that often disappear quickly. How can we trust them?
While understanding the circumstances of the world in which people are coming of age can be useful, it’s also short-sighted. Believing that everyone born between 1977 and 1994 is the same (and is responsible for the demise of golf) makes about as much sense as saying everyone born between May 21 and June 21 are the same. (That’s Geminis, if you’re wondering, and we are known for being quick-witted and expressive.)
No matter your role – leader, teacher, supervisor, parent, friend – it’s important to remember that stereotypes are not born out of nothing, but they do a disservice. We cannot jump to conclusions about motivations, about emotions, about attention spans. We must invest in building relationships and communicating to break beyond the stereotypes. Is this an easy task? No. Is it worth it? Yes.