Student engagement can resolve current issues
Last week Pope Francis addressed the U.S. House of Representatives and spoke about many of the critical challenges of our time: serving the poor, world violence, and climate change. He urged the power brokers of D.C. to approach these issues with all of the ideals of public service.
It is truly refreshing to see a global figure with such popularity based in high moral standing, especially when the norm of leadership in this country often feels much the opposite. Unfortunately, expecting members of our political class to instantly turn over a new leaf is like expecting to walk to class tomorrow without having your ears assaulted by construction. It’s not going to happen.
Our politics are what they are, and followers of the early race for the presidency could argue that it is getting worse. According to Gallup, over 80 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress. Closer to home, the leaders of the New York State Assembly and Senate were both indicted this year.
It is a mess.
The type of ethic the pope is suggesting stands in stark contrast to reality. Our political system is marked by powerful special interests, misleading partisan rhetoric, and a lack of constructivism. Little is being done to address the critical challenges that we have to deal with. When looking for leadership and direction, Americans don’t have anywhere reliable to turn to.
So where does this leave us as college students?
We’re a generation that often gets criticized for being narcissistic and caring for nothing beyond funny videos on the Internet. There’s a grain of truth there, but it is still unfair. Any apathy that is happening among young adults is more a reflection of current leadership than it is the character of millennials.
There is also plenty of evidence that college students have what it takes to do better than our current leaders. Here at the University at Albany, there are dozens of student organizations with hundreds of students who volunteer their time to worthy causes. In the next few weeks alone, there are events on campus to raise awareness for sexual assault victims and breast cancer. There are also a slate of service events scheduled in October for Community Engagement Month.
Places like UAlbany are the training grounds of the leaders of tomorrow. Observing the best of what is going on around here is cause for optimism about the future. However, if the leadership of the future is going to improve to where these big issues will be realistically addressed, the bar still has to be raised.
It is unlikely that problems like climate change and violence will have disappeared 25 years from now. We are more able to tackle poverty, but that will probably still exist too. Further, the future will bring about unforeseen challenges that will be every bit as difficult as the ones that aren’t being solved currently. Rapid technological advances will displace jobs, increasingly invade privacy, and make war more lethal, while geopolitical power shifts may threaten global stability.
In this context, we have to be as good as we possibly can be now so that our generation represents a new and improved ethic of leadership in the future. Current UAlbany students may not be in Congress, but many will be leaders in their offices, communities and families. A mass culture of civic-mindedness is needed from the bottom up to navigate the storms of the future.
The remarkable part about the present is that for every difficult problem, there is a hopeful development. Poverty around the world is decreasing, and technological advances should give us the tools to tackle issues more effectively than ever. Examples of this can already be seen with the crowdsourcing efforts bringing previously unattainable resources to innovators in the developing world.
More things like that are needed, and the idealism of young adults can provide a lot of it. What student leaders at UAlbany and around the country are doing today in preparation for tomorrow may be the difference in tipping the scales of the future toward extraordinary progress and away from disaster.
Just for context, Pope Francis is 78. The average age of a congress member is 62. Making sure the coming decades are filled with progress is much more real to those on the Podium than those in the Capitol.