This column was originally published in USC’s Daily Trojan on Sept. 29, 2015.
For all the criticism millennials receive, we are truly a generation of getting things done. Or so it seems on social media.
Last weekend an incident of racial injustice against our Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath got that ball rolling. It led to national media coverage, a blast email from the University entitled “Important message to the USC Campus Community” and a Facebook status by Sampath that as of Monday had generated more than 10,000 likes.
Literally thousands of people were supportive of Sampath and expressed their outrage on social media that an incident like this could still occur. It seemed like for the first time in a long time a change was going to come in how USC acknowledged and responded to racial injustice. A student leader experienced an unfortunately all-too-common reality of living in America. She effectively used her position to speak truth to power.
Yet, as talk buzzed around campus, a common sentiment I heard was that there was no point in having this conversation again. We knew it existed. Intolerance has always existed. The next incident of racial injustice would happen soon, and it would negate all the work that Sampath, USG and Student Affairs was trying to do.
It seemed like last week brought up the underlying problem of “racial fatigue” within this generation. I was not immune to this experience. The spotlight, which seemed temporal, felt eerily similar to other times race was a hot topic issue around campus. There was shock, then statements, but ultimately silence on the issue.
Institutional change remains evasive for millennials. It’s not from lack of trying. For millennials, it is difficult for us to orchestrate long-term advocacy because our lives are built on instant gratification.
We’re used to seeing change happen quickly. During our lifetimes, we’ve had dramatic technological advancements in the ways that we communicate with one another. Social media and the internet bring us a stream of quality products, news and ideas instantly. So for us, why should our perception of social change be any different?
In the 1960s, an era that we usually confine the Civil Rights Movement to, change was slow coming by our standards. For those leaders, it took a lot of bootstrapping, failures and revisions. Many of the accomplishments of that era were built on the back of generations before them, on thousands of people who never saw their work come to fruition.
Millennials’ use of social media to share information has dramatically changed the way we orchestrate and assess social movements, according to USC professor Shana Redmond, who has taught a class called “Post-Civil Rights Black America.” Social media creates a facade, she said.
“Tweeting and Facebook do not make a social movement,” Redmond wrote in an email. “Change is most successfully measured over the long term and on a wide scale. This is a project that social media, with its investment in immediate gratification, is ill-equipped to allow.”
With technology, not much about our day and lifestyle has to change to feel like we’ve done something. That’s kind of technology’s caveat. This cannot translate over to how we approach social movements. Social change actually requires more of us than we are used to giving.
We cannot go back to the time before technology was used for social movements; it has already indelibly rooted itself in our lives. It’s sped up the way we millennials must interact with the world. We have to turn in assignments on Blackboard at a certain time, respond to emails quickly and be expected to be available at all hours of the day through texting. Our world has put so many more pressures on us that the groundwork for changes in the future just doesn’t seem as time-sensitive and urgent as our checklist for today.
But it is.
As a senior, the conversations we’re having about racial tolerance and inclusion at USC might not affect me in the new policies that are instated. I will probably not be a beneficiary of the new cultural house for black students and calls for a vice president for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion proposed by the Daily Trojan editorial board. I graduate in May and, from my experience, change — true and overarching change — doesn’t come in seven months.
But there’s currently a group of students filling out their Common App to be part of the class of 2020 at USC. So we should start making tangible changes for them so that their experiences at USC are better than ours. This, in turn, protects our legacy.
If you’re looking for ways to do that, attend the diversity talks on campus. Set aside time this week — in between our rush from this class to that club — to think about how you are part of the whole. It’s time for us to overcome that feeling of racial fatigue and realize that we’re part of a civil rights movement — right now.
After reading “Wait An L.A. Minute” on Tuesdays, join Jordyn Holman in her millennial conversations on Twitter @JordynJournals. She’s a senior studying print and digital journalism.