Skip to main content

Generation Z Faces a Troubled World

June 03, 2024
Ty McGlynn

Ty McGlynn

Why do younger generations continue to fight for social justice in a world filled with turmoil?

I have grown up aware that we live in a world full of problems. Climate change, overseas wars, pandemics, human rights violations, just to name a few.  As I have continued to grow up in college, I have realized that my generation will inherit this world of problems, and things just aren’t getting better.

It would be easy to give up and succumb to the hopelessness of the world. What purpose is there in fighting for change when our efforts seem so futile? Why fight for one issue when there are plenty of other issues that are just as pressing and urgent? Why not give in to nihilism or allow ourselves to be sedated by the endless distractions present in our society, from endless scrolling to Netflix binging?

Despite the overwhelming challenges we face, recent protests across college campuses have shown that Generation Z will engage in the public sphere for things they believe in. Demonstrations involving students now make up more than 40 percent of all U.S. demonstration activity related to the Israel-Palestine conflict since October 2023. Irrespective of whether you agree or don’t agree with one side or the other, the fact that students have marched and sat in and given time and put themselves at risk shows ambition and resilience.

Our interconnectedness and global awareness compel us to act. We know that local problems have global implications. The first time I understood this was with the Black Lives Matter movement when I saw how powerful mobilization could be. Streets paved with protesters, stained with anger. This was echoed abroad with protests in 60 countries. Even amidst a pandemic, the decades of injustices moved a population against hate. The Ukraine war which started uncomfortably close to me while I was studying abroad in Germany showed me the ugliness of war. In Germany, I met refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan—or as I called them, my classmates, friends, and roommates. Living in such an interconnected world, there is no escaping the realities of these situations. I think this is what pushes us to engage.

Growing up in an interconnected era—where, if we aren’t traveling to other places, we are being exposed instantly on our phones to crises as they unfold around the world—has exposed us to realities and points of view that would be impossible to see otherwise. This leads us to be more aware of the problems we face but also shows a nuanced understanding of these issues by allowing us to hear about events in real time. Having daily death tolls from wars abroad, views from protests all around the world, and hearing the voices of those in conflict allows you to experience these issues yourself.

The world is in turmoil—and that’s why we need to engage. For me personally, what this means is pursuing a degree in international relations and a career in foreign affairs. I’ve revolved my professional career around working non-profit internships like with Little Sun a non-profit promoting clean energy in Africa, or Global Ties Sacramento, an organization sponsoring cultural exchange and public diplomacy.

I’ve also been able to participate in the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program, where I get to work firsthand to promote foreign affairs and diplomacy. Working at IGCC has also allowed me to support the creation of research towards a peaceful world. I want to contribute in some way through a career in making the world more peaceful and less dangerous. There are plenty of problems to solve and plenty of ways to engage. The things I do won’t change the world, but they will be at least a part of changing it for the better. And what the recent campus protests show is that I’m not alone—students, young people, far from being glued to their phones and checked out on video games, are engaging meaningfully in our world.

What can other students do? Get engaged. Think about what issues are meaningful to you. There are so many organizations out there to support and get involved with locally and on a broader scale. For students, most of these organizations exist on your campus. They are easy to find with a simple search on the Internet. Most campuses have centers like UC San Diego’s Center for Student Involvement, which can help you navigate how to get involved, especially when it comes to volunteer opportunities. Things like student leadership, internships at non-profits, or creating your own service project are all great ways to make an impact.

My generation has grown up in dramatically different times from those before us and will continue to experience life differently. As we continue to face and consider how to respond to global and local challenges, we should look for fresh, creative solutions and identify areas where cooperation and reconciliation are possible. But above all, we should engage. We should get involved in the world because we live in a world filled with turmoil, and it’s up to each of us to be part of making things different.

Ty McGlynn is an international studies major at UC San Diego, and the communications and program assistant at the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC).

Thumbnail credit: Garry Knight