In one of their legendary songs, the Beastie Boys summed up what a fair portion of college life is all about: “You’ve got to fight, for your right, to party.” Fight? Well, maybe not literally. But partying – that’s why some students choose a school more than a few miles from home. Such was life before the date that now lives in infamy. The booming ’90s fed college students the notions that money was paramount and our economy would be perpetually programmed to a breakneck speed. Life was good and the future was bright. Being young, carefree and innocent was a guaranteed right at the proverbial Ivory Tower.
But then came Sept. 11, and the nation took a collective punch in the stomach. No one was immune from the aftershocks, not even college students, as expressed in a just-released poll by the Independent Women’s Forum. It should come as no surprise to learn that students are still essentially liberal in their politics. In fact, according to the IWF poll, college students may be the most liberal constituency in America – 55 percent – when compared to the U.S. electorate, which ranks 33 percent liberal. And yet, President George W. Bush enjoys unprecedented support from this segment of the population.
We’re looking at a generation of young people in the formative years of life when everything changed in one day. Now, they’ve been forced to grow up fast in a world that’s no longer so idyllic. The two biggest concerns topping the students’ list were terrorism and the economy, sentiments that mirror the focus of the Bush Administration and the general public. In some ways, it’s comforting to know they’ve been effected, moved. And maybe not in drastic, seismic shifts, but a full 32 percent now spend more time praying and 22 percent have decided to hit the books a bit harder. Could it be that we’re witnessing the rebirth of values in a student population that leaves many guessing what it treasures?
It appears that, almost overnight, Sept. 11 clarified what college students truly cherish. Ninety-four percent value personal responsibility and family and 63 percent value patriotism. All this coincides neatly with the call to arms issued by President Bush. On Sept. 20, the nation expected marching orders from the President during his address to a joint session of Congress. We had been prepared to expect sacrifice, but we were told by our president to take to the skies and charge up our credit cards. Fair enough, the economy needed consumer confidence. There was criticism that the President didn’t ask enough of us in that primetime speech. That changed during his State of the Union address. “For too long our culture has said, `If it feels good, do it,'” Bush said. “Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: `Let’s roll.'” Are college students ready to answer the call? Fifty-eight percent of those polled value volunteerism. It will be interesting to see how many translate that value into real action. The opportunity is there.
And yet, Sept. 11 has also provided a tutorial that no college textbook or tenured professor could hope to duplicate. Peace and prosperity are not guaranteed and should not be taken for granted. War and tragedy do not take place on distant continents. Evil can wreak havoc on the most unsuspecting public, in the greatest country on earth. College students have an answer to this wake-up call. Intangible qualities are suddenly back in vogue. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Kate Kennedy is the director of SheThinks.org, the campus project of the Independent Women’s Forum