The kids are alright*

I’ve been thinking about this editorial that the Daily Northwestern, which is the student newspaper of Northwestern University, published earlier this week. The basis of the editorial is wrongheaded, but I’m not going to beat up on the students. It’s a tough job being a newspaper editor in a university environment where your classmates don’t understand journalism and they’re are beating up on you.

From a former Daily Tar Heel editor and student of mine:

I do regret, though, that the editorial can rightfully be used as an illustration that college students are snowflakes — “overly emotional, easily offended and unable to deal with opposing opinions.”

I regret it because, at UNC-Chapel Hill where I teach, that isn’t my experience. I occasionally have students who worry that something they write might trigger a reader. (Not a bad concern so long as it doesn’t prevent you from writing the truth.) And the Daily Tar Heel occasionally warns students of emotional content in its stories. But I think a lot of “adults” would be surprised at how strong they already are.

Yesterday, I had students in one of my classes write first-person stories. I had lectured on how the best first-person pieces contain emotion and express a universal truth that readers will grasp. I want them to reach deeply, get beyond the surface, and tell me what their story is really about.

And every semester, I’m reminded how tough students are. They experience pain and trauma that I didn’t at their age. Some topics:

  • Parents divorce
  • Death of a mother
  • Death of a brother
  • The expectation of an arranged marriage
  • A father with cancer
  • Bisexuality
  • Being the one who finds a friend who hanged himself

Some of them are still processing what happened to them. (Writing about it often helps.) The lessons they learn from these experiences are always exactly what you want them to have learned.

There are a lot of reasons to worry about the state of journalism. But don’t waste your time worrying about the state of college journalists. They have their shit together.

*Headline copied from what Lex Alexander always says when I write about the wisdom of my students. Lex, I presume, took it from an album of The Who.



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