A new generation, in their own words
Tasneem Ahmad Al-Michael
Mass shootings, soaring student debt, a climate in crisis, and dim economic prospects are a fact of life for anyone born in the United States after 1982. But while bonded by this bleak inheritance, there’s plenty of daylight between the lived experiences of someone raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s and someone born after 9/11.
The term millennial remains shorthand for “young person,” but the oldest members of that generation, according to Pew Research Center metrics, will be turning 37 this year. They are no longer undergrads living with their parents—they are parents themselves, licensed professionals, Tulsa Voice editors, city councilors and presidential candidates.
Millennials are taking the reins and telling their stories, but what of the generation coming up behind them? To find out what’s on the minds of this new cohort, we tasked recent Holland Hall graduate and budding journalist Claire Sherburn with gathering and editing stories from her peers on a wide range of topics, from consumption to education and points in between.
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I’m sitting in a cramped storage closet in the back corner of Holland Hall’s administrative offices, next to the CFO, the entire admissions department and several kids I grew up with. We’re training for the moment, should it ever come, that an active shooter terrorizes our quiet south Tulsa campus. Packed like sardines in the dark, I can’t help but wonder: How did we get here?
Since I started high school in 2015, there have been over 115 fatalities in school shootings across the country. That’s my entire graduating class, plus a fraction of the class below—dead.
You’d like to think your school is your safe place. It’s where you go every single day. You spend more consecutive hours there during the week than at home. That’s what makes the shock and bewilderment of school shootings so severe.
I have never experienced anything close to the trauma of a school shooting, and I count myself lucky. But throughout my four years at a small, private, college preparatory school in the safe bubble of south Tulsa, I became more and more aware every single day, with every headline that passed of another student—just like me, now gone—that it could literally happen to me, to my friends, to my school, in our safe place.
Now, students like me are learning to live with a disturbing new safety protocol: active shooter drills. It’s not just the standard fire or tornado drill, or even the always nerve-wracking lockdown drill; it’s learning the best hiding places in your school, the crevices and locked doors that could potentially save your life.
The first time my school presented the idea of an active shooter drill to the student body, my stomach tied itself in knots. Despite knowing it would be a drill, it plants the instant fear in your head: This really could happen. We could be the next school in the headlines. Who would be the victims? Where the hell would I hide?
From there the thoughts run wild. Given the trauma and fear of the simulation, you can’t help but wonder if this hypothetical exercise is really worth it. Educator and writer Erika Christakis says it isn’t. Reporting for The Atlantic, she writes: “There’s scant evidence that [active shooter drills] are effective. They can, however, be psychologically damaging.”
Whitney Udwin, incoming Dean of Students at Holland Hall, sees value in the exercise, even if questions linger. “Of course, doing active shooter drills is unpleasant. We all like to think that that sort of event will never happen to us. Having to do the drill is a reminder that it could happen and that we best not forget that. And it is better to do the drill just in case it could help in a time of need.”
With no solutions in sight, it seems as if students will just have to learn to deal with this dark new reality: from young children, who are just learning how to color inside the lines, all the way to the angsty and acne-ridden teenagers in the upper school buildings. Finding solutions shouldn’t be a partisan exercise. Real lives are being lost while substantial action to stop these mass shootings continues to stall, and students like me go to school every single day with the fear that we might not come home. — Claire Sherburn
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As my 2019 New Year’s resolution, I decided to take on the challenge of being vegan. Well, pesca-vegan, meaning I still eat fish. I had already been dairy and red-meat free for around six months to experiment its effect on my acne and overall health and was pleased with how things were going, so I decided to kick it up a notch.
Consciousness around animal cruelty, waste-free lifestyles and sustainability have become a bigger part of the conversation around food in America. As a result, it’s becoming easier to eat a plant-based diet even in a meat-loving city like Tulsa. The Cherry Street Farmers’ Market, for example, has been where I have bought most of my produce this summer. The market promotes relationships between farmers and their consumers. For people who are and aren’t vegan, this farmer’s market is a great place to start if you’re wanting to reduce waste, support local, eat organic, and for delicious food.
For new vegans, it can be hard to find places to eat, but that’s another thing Tulsa has been scoring on. Almost every restaurant I’ve been to this year in town has had at least one vegan option. Places like Chimera Cafe, Local Bison, Elote, The Vault and Laffa are my favorite places to eat because of their delicious vegan (and fish) options. Lots of these restaurants buy from local farms, so you can keep your money in the community while improving your health and the health of the planet. — Margo Starr
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One in five American adults carries student loan debt. Collectively, they owe an incredible $1.3 trillion. This debt is ever-increasing, and it’s bigger than both credit card debt and car loans, which is why we say there’s a student debt crisis in America. The cost of college in America is without a doubt unreasonable, and must be addressed through policy, but it’s not entirely responsible for this mountain of debt.
While we advocate for more reasonably-priced college and deep student loan reform, we must address the other causes behind this crisis: America’s lousy and outdated approach to high school and the overprescription of college.
Although many degree-holding graduates default on their loans, much of this student debt crisis is actually a college completion crisis. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, just 58 percent of students who started college in the fall of 2012 had earned any degree six years later. Most of the time, these students drop out because they can’t continually balance working to pay for school and the academic responsibilities of the schools that are designed for full time students.
Students in this situation are the most likely to end up in debt because they carry the burden of student loans without the benefit of a degree. But the fault is hardly their own. A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that, among industrialized nations, Americans rank near the bottom in literacy, numeracy, and “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.” American public schools are much less rigorous and teachers are criminally underpaid; and, too often, sports are more emphasized than
This disregard for education in America, in combination with the fact that most colleges are designed for full-time students, are important players in the student debt crisis. If we want to alleviate the problem, Americans must take education more seriously and we must question the narrative that everyone needs to go to a four-year college or university right after high school because that isn’t practical for everyone. Most of all, however, the government must be held responsible to invest in all its people—not just the rich and well-connected. — Max Lieberman
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Consent and Media
Art provides an unparalleled look at that particular moment in time. It’s a commentary on life. Movies provide a particularly sharp look at society's attitude in a particular time. We can see the evolution of our society’s opinion just based on the depiction of specific topics in movies.
Take, for example, sexual consent. The concept has dramatically changed in America over the years, and few film genres can help us understand this evolution quite like the teen movie.
Sixteen Candles is a good place to start. Molly Ringwald's character, Sam, is a strong female role model who demands respect—and she mostly gets it. Sam has feelings for a guy. He, in turn, has feelings for her—and, in glorious 80s John Hughes fashion, they have a sweet, romantic, and totally consensual kiss at the end of the film. Now don’t get me wrong, there are incidents of objectification—and racism, but that needs a whole article—suchas when Sam’s younger friend Ted ( Anthony Michael Hall) places a bet that he can acquire Sam’s underwear.
Despite these problems, Sixteen Candles is more in line with Webster's definition of consent than the teen flick of the early 2000s, American Pie. Thefilm is from the male perspective, and at almost no point does it develop itsfemale characters enough for the audience to know how they feel about any interaction. American Pie isn’t concerned with consent.
Then we move to mid 2000s cult classic, Mean Girls. This film most accurately reflects my middle school/early high school experience. There isn't a literal mention of consent, but there is some evidence of the characters actively working towards it. For example, Regina George sees the new girl, Cady Heron (the protagonist) being cornered by a skeezy guy attempting to “hook up” with her. Regina asks Cady if she wants to have sex with him. Cady says no, and Regina tells the skeezball to get lost as she isn’t interested in him. Consent is more important in Mean Girls, but we have yet to actually name the thing, define the word, make a societal call to action about it.
That brings us to present date, and the hit film, Booksmart. This very much 2019 in the sense that it heavily mentions consent. For example, one of the characters has a sign on a boat that reads, “Get Bashed” and when the two female protagonists see it, he feels the need to go on for several minutes about how if there were to be any “bashing” it would be consensual. This is post #MeToo, a world where consent is much more in the forefront of our minds.
As you can see, America’s view has ebbed and flowed and will likely continueto. What is so wonderful about film and the media industry is that we can seedecade by decade, time after time, a nation’s feelings about a particular topic. Our ability to view this evolution can be so instrumental in our ability to affect change, progress, and to correct or apologize for our mistakes. - Caroline Kelly
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Political engagement - Q&A with Tasneem Ahmad Al-Michael, President of the College Democrats of Oklahoma
How did you get involved in politics?
I’m one of those people who was activated after Trump was elected. I’m a DACA recipient …when the administration announced they would be rescinding the DACA program, I was asked to speak at a rally on campus [at the University of Oklahoma]. Next thing you know, CAIR and Dream Action Oklahoma hold a joint press conference, and with me being Muslim as well as somebody who’s undocumented, they had somebody to kind of connect through.
I started doing my first organizing work with Dream Action Oklahoma in December of 2017. I was tasked with organizing about 55 young people, students, to go to the U.S. Capitol and basically we stayed there for about a week. We protested. We met with James Lankford to talk about his immigration legislation. We were trying to push for the Dream Act. From there, I stayed in D.C. in January and February during both government shutdowns, and when we came back home and realized we weren’t going to see any form of immigration legislation being passed with a Republican-controlled government, I knew at that point we had to work on campaigns.
Can you talk about your campaign work?
I started interning with gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson and congressional candidate Kendra Horn. It was Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Drew—Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with Kendra. … I would say a good deserving part of Kendra’s victory was due to the number of students we had on that campaign. We had over 40 interns … My field organizing counterpart was 22. Her manager was also 22. A lot of staff on that campaign were young people. I was the youngest at age 18.
What are the key issues facing young people today?
Student loan debt, gun violence and climate change. … I will say the fight against climate change is the biggest youth-driven movement that’s happening right now. It’s an existential threat to all of humanity. The thing is, so many of the individuals putting our laws in place aren’t going to be around to see the most devastating effects.
What’s your advice to other young people looking to get involved?
Find the issues you care about. For me, it started with immigration. … I know for some people it’s a little challenging to speak out, but it’s a matter of giving yourself a chance. You’ll find that more people are willing to go along with you than you think. … There’s an organization for practically everything, and more than ever a lot of them have younger leadership at the helm. … There’s a way for you to get involved anywhere.