Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
Preparing to Return After a Difficult SemesterJennifer Sullivan
College students are exposed to countless new freedoms and responsibilities — one of the most important being the ability to vote.
I remember the excitement of getting my first ballot. I'd been taught my whole life about the importance of voting and was ecstatic to finally participate. I'm also continually reminded of the disappointment I felt after casting my vote and having the officials voted in fail to take action in ways I had hoped.
Many young adults like myself are unimpressed with our nation’s system of democracy and perhaps feel less inclined to vote this fall. (For a better understanding of how these voters feel, you can read a New York Times article here that discusses this issue in greater depth.)
In my experience, this is a very different mindset than that of older generations. The adults in my life have always encouraged voting. My parents and teachers have preached about democracy and the importance of submitting my ballot. This all sounded like a great system to me until I turned 18 and came to realize voting is not the magical solution I anticipated.
These differing attitudes toward voting put both young voters and their parents in challenging positions. Here is some advice for parents on how to support your students based on my own experiences as a frustrated voter.
First, parents have to bridge the divide between them and their students. This can be done by acknowledging your student's frustrations. Part of Generation Z's dissatisfaction is that we feel unheard or ignored by older generations — it is very validating to have our elders listen to us and assure us that our concerns and demands for change are important. This is a good way to start conversations and support your student as they navigate the current cultural and political landscape and try to find their place within it.
Next, remind your student of the reasons to vote. Despite my frustrations, I will be casting my ballot in all upcoming elections.
This is for a number of reasons, one of which is that voting is a powerful tool for my generation. Young adults are a big demographic that has had low turnout in the past. There is enormous power in our large numbers; if we actually show up to vote, we can make a big impact on election day.
Parents, remember that many of us feel powerless or defeated — remind us of the power we do have and our ability to make a difference.
Another reason I personally feel compelled to vote is to amplify voices that are silenced in our country. Many citizens, especially Black and brown individuals, are still hindered in their ability to vote due to forms of voter suppression. I am privileged in my ability to vote, and will be doing so on behalf of those who cannot. If your student is in a similar position, discuss this privilege and encourage them to make the most of their opportunity.
If appropriate, parents can also remind young people that change is a process. We cannot dismantle an entire system overnight; we must instead work with the tools that we have to implement the changes we want to see. This is something I have to continually remind myself.
We should definitely show up to the polls in November but this in itself will not solve the myriad of social justice issues in our country. Fortunately, there are other ways college students can contribute to society and make the changes we want to see.
First, students are able to learn, unlearn and grow. College is a chance to be exposed to new perspectives, be challenged, ask questions and make mistakes. Encourage your student to take classes that will push them to do these things. My first year I took an American Politics course where I had the opportunity to go inside a state prison and begin to unlearn the biases I have about incarcerated people as well as learn about transformative justice. Learning to recognize my own biases so that I could work to unlearn them was eye-opening and has allowed me to grow immensely.
In addition, students have access to SO many resources, from anti-racist reading lists to social justice clubs to grants to fund student projects and initiatives. Universities provide these things and more to support students in their activism. Push your student to take advantage of these resources as they won’t have access to them forever.
Finally, we can reflect and take action to promote change in our own lives. After learning/unlearning, we must reflect on our own experiences and the ways in which we are complicit. In addition to reflecting, we can use our platform as students to take action towards progress. For example, I recently discontinued my membership from my sorority after reflecting on my own complicity in systemic oppression.
These are just a few strategies that have empowered me as a college student. I hope you'll share these ideas with your student as ways to supplement the vote they cast in the upcoming election. Filling out a ballot is not where the work ends, and we must all take some additional steps to contribute to the progress we hope to see in our country.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.