Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys
Generation Z (Gen Z) — born 1997 and onwards as defined by Pew Research Center — is the population of the current teens and young adults that is beginning to enter the working world. Since the oldest members of Gen Z are 22, our undergraduate population at Trinity University is made up almost entirely of Gen Z.
Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life and professor of sociology, covers the topic of external factors shaping generations in her teaching She noted that a major stresser for Gen Z was the 2008 Great Recession.
“[Gen Z] has been under more pressure as a generation,” Tynes said. “[They] would have been old enough to remember the Great Recession. [Gen Z] has lived through that. That really underscored the fragility of the ecosystem and escalated the cost, value and payback of higher education.”
Erin Sumner, associate professor of human communication, covers the topic of generations and their relationship with technology in her Computer-Mediated Communication and Social Relations class. Like Tynes, she also mentioned the recession’s adverse impact on Gen Z.
“Generation Z kind of entered all of this with eyes wide open because the recession hit a foundational age for them,” Sumner said. “So they witnessed all of this at a young age. In many ways, Generation Z is a little bit more pessimistic and anxious than the millennials, because they watched all this with their eyes wide open going, ‘Wow.’”
Where the recession hit millennials directly, Gen Z had to grow up with the aftermath. Witnessing an economic downturn at such a young age, according to Tynes, affected the environment and group mindset of this cohort. Other events, such as the outbreak of mass shootings and the rising costs of higher education, put pressure on our upcoming young adults.
“All of those economic, political and cultural contexts lend themselves to a social environment that is pretty fraught with anxiety, and we see it at Trinity, and we see it nationally,” said Tynes.
Students are more pressured than ever to succeed academically and maintain financial stability after college, according to Tynes.
“Gen Z cares about making a living,” Tynes said. “Gen Z, like millennials, have faith in both capitalism and socialism.”
With Gen Z balancing capitalist ideals and socialist efforts, they continue their humanitarian efforts while keeping in mind their own financial prospects. As Tynes mentioned, the Gen Z cohort has more of an awareness of the disparity between individuals’ access to opportunities and resources.
“Generation Z is a little bit more pessimistic and anxious than millennials,” Sumner said. “Which is why you hear a lot of Generation Z saying they’re worried about their financial future and ability to get a job.”
First-year Adam Davis agreed that anxiety is prevalent in the Gen Z cohort.
“I think there’s a lot of stress, especially with student debt and a lot of the other issues that our generation has to face,” Davis said.
Trinity has put more of an emphasis on resources for mental health over the past 10 years, with the opening of the Student Success Center in 2015. The Student Success Center provides academic advising, counseling, accessibility services, health and wellness services and academic support programs to Trinity students.
“If you don’t learn how to manage all aspects of your physical and mental well-being [here at Trinity], we have failed you,” Tynes said.
Despite the issue of anxiety, Gen Z has put focus on more positive practices.
“[Gen Z] is more likely to be veggie-forward; [they’re] more likely to want to know if [their] food comes from local places,” Tynes said. “The renovations we did [in the Coates Student Center and the Mabee Dining Hall] where they’re cooking fresh food in front of you, that was coming from students.”
The job market for Gen Z looks bright too, as one of the larger generations of workers, baby boomers, begin to reach retirement age. According Pew Research Center, the Gen Z cohort has higher college enrollment than its predecessors. Forbes also notes that professional and academic achievement are the key focuses of Gen Z, as they attempt to avoid the mistakes that millennials made.
First-year Holden Wisener, like the 20 to 50 percent of undecided college first-years according to an article published by Penn State University, still holds doubts about his career.
“It’s definitely scary to think about,” said Wisener. “I’m a first-year, so I feel like I have a little time, but I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you.”
Gen Z has more roots in technology, coming of age with the internet. Sumner noted that Gen Z students have more of an awareness of their social media use.
“Only time will tell whether [our relationship with technology] is a good thing or a bad thing,” Davis said. “I think as much as technology has helped, maybe it’s hurt us.”
With Trinity’s undergraduate population beginning to enter graduate studies and the working world, there is no telling the full impact Gen Z will have in the future.