Editor’s note: We run occasional pieces by young people in the Puget Sound area, giving their perspectives. This piece is by Linda Yan, a senior at Bellevue High School.
Jan. 20, 2021, was a memorable day for many of us as we watched the inauguration of President Joe Biden. More importantly, we were watching the beginning of a new era after four tumultuous years under former President Donald Trump.
Generation Z, or Gen Z, typically refers to those born between 1997 and 2012. I, along with everyone interviewed for this article, am part of this demographic. With most of us still in our teens and early 20s, the future belongs to us, and we all have many hopes and dreams for what we want it to look like. We want a future where systemic racism and classism cease to exist. Where the climate crisis is no longer the threat to our very existence it is today. However, many of us feel only “cautiously optimistic” about the world ahead of us, for we have been dealt a hand of cards that make oftentimes even getting a good education an immense challenge. Here’s what we’d like to see from the Biden administration.
Presently, Americans hold $1.6 trillion in student debt and it is estimated that 73% of Gen-Z students will graduate college with student loan debt. Rachel Calder, a recent graduate of the University of Washington, wants to see a change in how higher education in the United States is funded. She believes that the Biden administration should enact more programs to make higher education and research positions more accessible for all.
Through her former work as an orientation leader at UW, Calder saw firsthand how many students, especially those of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and low-income backgrounds, frequently encounter barriers when they try to enter STEM fields. She cites, as an example, how “oftentimes to gain experience for entry-level positions they would have to take on an unpaid internship or opportunity” — something that is usually out of the question for anyone experiencing financial difficulties. These systemic issues showed her how impactful higher-education reform at the national level could be, and are what inspired her to join the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research institute based in the South Lake Union neighborhood, as an educator and research scientist, to help eliminate the obstacles to participating in science.
Gavin Bradler, an actor and a senior at Ballard High School, hopes that the new administration will take a more aggressive stance on ending police brutality. Identifying as “a child of mixed descent” with Mexican, Filipino and different European ethnicities, he is no stranger to navigating “the spaces in between.”
In the light of the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020, Bradler first witnessed what he described as “a mass woke-ning” in the increased awareness of his classmates toward systemic racism. Through everything from protesting in the streets against the killing of George Floyd to helping organize programs acknowledging and celebrating Black history, many Gen Zers became involved in anti-racist activism at a level like never before. This momentum energized stronger demands from local students, parents and teachers to increase equity within public education, which so far has resulted in small victories such as the temporary suspension of police in the Seattle Public Schools. With so many of his generation energized around racial justice, Bradler is hopeful that changes like this could happen at a national level, too.
As a frequent volunteer for his school’s Sunrise Movement hub, a national youth-led climate-policy action group, Bradler also wants the administration to place a heavier focus on climate policy, a sentiment in line with many our age. For Gen Z, climate change is something that has always been a part of our existence, lurking in the back of our minds. An international survey conducted by the United Nations showed that 69% of people below the age of 18 believe that climate change is an emergency, a far greater proportion than any other age group.
Lucy Carrel, 13, described this feeling by stating: “Out of all the global issues I understand, this one seems the most real because it is happening right now, versus a lot of other issues you just talk about but don’t see.”
Ava, 15, and Violet, 11, are also part of the Carrel family, who live on Clyde Hill. They’ve already undertaken service projects such as packing over 235 meals each month for the Salvation Army to distribute to those facing food insecurity. Violet says she hopes the Biden administration will create a more efficient rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine so they can all finally “see my grandparents again.”
I ended my interview with the Carrels by asking them about the type of world they hoped their children would be able to live in. After a brief pause, Ava slowly answered: “I’d say one where they feel safe to be themselves, whether they decide to come out as trans, gay or whoever they are, and that they feel supported with a system that cares for them and has their best intentions at heart.”
“And I want for the world to get more peaceful and no more wars!” chimed in Violet.
In the face of all these adversities, we no longer have the privilege to remain complacent bystanders. Change and revolution by Gen Z isn’t coming; it’s already here. We are mobilizing. From the Washington Youth for Climate Justice to Fridays For Future, the global youth climate movement that Greta Thunberg is credited with starting, you can find us — and join us — at both the local and international level to help make a difference.