Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Anger Comes to College

It’s been a very busy two weeks of giving presentations all over the country. And there has been a common question coming up in as diverse places as Los
Angeles, Texas and NYC . “Are students more upset today than they were in the past?”
My answer surprised a few folks. “Yes. They are.”
Students are more easily upset and even prone to outbursts of anger more this year than they have been in the past. People are even hearing more gerunds coming up in discussions with them. Gerunds? Words ending in “–ing” used in phrases such as “this #%&ing school”.

Students are reflections of our society and the result of the culture’s culture or lack of it. And today’s national culture is one of free floating antagonism, anger and attack. And this is not just in the political debates but is pervasive in our society. Students and the campus are not separate or isolated from what is going on in our society.  In fact they bring the societal mood and the messages that are floating in our society onto campus, into the halls and classrooms each and every day.

And right now our national mood is rather dour if not out and out nasty. The nature  of politics and everyday life are combative and aggressive. Everywhere one turns the message is attack what you don’t agree with. Even to the point of physical as well as verbal abuse. Just this morning there were reports of pastors polluting the funerals or soldiers with messages thanking G-d for killing them, people beating and torturing men simply because they were born gay, politicians making outrageous claims and attack ads. TV and radio pundits smearing and assaulting anyone and everyone with whom they might disagree with attack words and statements using a very heated level of discourse. I and you can feel the anger and you can be sure our students do too.

I am not a language prude in any way and have been known to use some strong words myself but I am surprised how crass and low our use of language has become. Words we would have only used when deeply provoked or not at all are now common (and yes I chose that word purposefully) in everyday discussion. The gerunds fly.

All of this accompanied with the ever increasing costs of attending college have made our students into angrier and less tolerant consumers.  There is a clear and consistent relationship between the cost of a product or service and the demands that a consumer/customer places on it. The higher the cost or the stress to pay for something, the greater the demand that it perform at a level equal to expectations for the product or service. So as tuition and the hidden tuition we call fees keep climbing, the increases push expectations to higher levels  This in turn generates more  anxiety leading to greater levels of anger.

This increases even more when we do not meet the expectations of students or treat them as they feel they are due for all the money and personal investments they are making in our schools. And unfortunate, I have not been on a campus where the bulk of students feel the school is meeting the expectations it created to recruit them.

The expansion of college throughout the society making college a rite of passage to a job rather than to the upper and middle class has also made higher education familiar and taken away the mystique of academia. Familiarity does breed contempt in some cases and college is one of them. As more and more people have gone to college and been in contact with the denizens of academia, they have seen how some do have what appears to be an easy life or are not responsive to their needs.

Couple higher expectations with lowered behavior levels and that is a formula for bad customer behavior that often comes out in the common statement “I pay your salary.” So, yes, students are more demanding/difficult.

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