Tales of the third kind… students

To be in the world, but not of the world. This sentiment is long associated with religious traditions, but have students somehow unintentionally fallen into the same trap?

Othered Students _ photo by Brittany

A BUSU and Niagara College organized campaign entitled “Ride With Me” was recently held which asked Niagara representatives at all levels of politics, from city and regional council to members of provincial parliament, to ride on public transit for a day. This event created a chance for these politicians to talk specifically to students about the matter of transportation that so deeply affects them.

While these stories were highly publicized, making the cover of both The Niagara Falls Review and The St. Catharines Standard — which is rare for so-called “student news” — this is a great feat for student agency and advocation within a greater community context. However, more troubling is the title of the Standard’s article, “Students want one transit operator”.

Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the title, the article or anything otherwise; but the title unnerved me. “Students”. Not citizens. Not individuals. Just students. Defined solely by the fact that we happen to be enrolled in school.

Specifically in Niagara, this is a very relevant question. As most of the population is made up of seniors and aging baby-boomers, youth are among the minority. In St. Catharines, there are essentially two streets specifically equipped for youth: St. Paul Street downtown, and the St. Davids Road (because it is directly beside the University). Here we can see baby boomers providing students with everything they think it is that we want: bars, Burrito Boyz and a McDonald’s.

Is there a way to tell them what we want? Is there a process in which we can have our opinions really heard, or is it just a matter of ‘waiting’ until we are in charge? Why is it that it takes a formally organized event where politicians have to be trapped on a bus just to create an avenue of communication between students and policy makers?

Sometimes, it just feels that we are living in a world that was not made for us. But it’s nothing new. It’s an old narrative, that we’ve dealt with since childhood; just consider the signs on the convenience store windows that said ‘No more than three students at a time’ to prevent potential ‘theft’.

That seems to be the issue with the late teenage and early adult years. It has almost become a delayed coming of age in which we are no longer children and we are not yet adults. Ultimately, this can result in society not knowing how to treat us, and us not knowing how to think about ourselves.

There is hope however: the world is changing, and it seems to be in our favour. According to Peter Harris, Chief Editor of workopolis.com, this so-called liability of youth can actually be turned around to an advantage. While this generational gap has caused us to suffer from othering, eventually, as the population cycles, this generation Y will be the dominant force within society. The empowerment behind the population shift is widely because of the job market: as we move in, we push others into retirement.

Harris states, “Technology is playing a larger role in almost all jobs now, and that is where young people can take the lead. Where their parents might spend hours on the phone with tech support to solve a technical issue, young people are more likely to quickly find solutions. They grew up in a world that was connected, digital, wireless and interactive.”

The world needs, and will need, our unique generational skills, our talents and our unique perspectives. But it doesn’t seem like it yet. While we’re in this seemingly separate, educational sphere, often society assumes that students do not contribute as heavily to society. It’s almost like we start to matter only as we enter the real world economy. Maybe then we’ll get the representation we deserve, and maybe we’ll even pay it forward and give future generations the voice, attention and value that they deserve, while attempting to understand their social contexts.

Until we do graduate and hopefully enter into the full-time labour market, let’s hope that policy-makers and individuals of authority begin to recognize the agency and power of this connected cross section of society. We have the ability to do more than get Community renewed for a sixth season – it’s time for society to recognize that.

In what ways have you felt ‘othered’ and ostracized by the community for being young, or a student? Send a tweet to @brockopinion using the hashtag #thirdkind and let us know about your lived experiences.

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