Student Chatter About What Matters
Panelists value individuality, trust and inclusivity
In early January, just a couple of days following the start of the spring semester, I met with four Florida State University Panama City students and a recent graduate of the school to discuss their ambitions, priorities, values, buying habits and other behaviors and generalizations often applied to post-millennials. We met on campus in the Dean’s Conference Room, a hifalutin space with a staggeringly gorgeous view of St. Andrew Bay. Among the students, perhaps none was aware that in 2009 in that very conference room, a blue-ribbon panel of prominent, powerful citizens (plus me) met to find ways to save the campus.
It had been threatened with closure by then FSU president T.K. Wetherell, who had received a report from an FSU budget crisis committee. The Great Recession was upon us, and the committee had issued recommendations that included closing FSU Panama City. As a product of negotiation, Wetherell agreed to give the branch campus three years in which to become financially self-sufficient. Today, the campus’s future is assured. In recent years, FSU PC has aligned itself more closely with the needs of area employers, added new degree programs, become a four-year campus and built on-campus housing. In my conversation with the students, several themes would emerge, among them authenticity, individuality and respect for individual differences. The students have lived in Panama City for all or nearly all of their lives.
I began by asking the panelists minus Michael, who would join later, how they feel about generalizations made about generations, including their own. Ethan was particularly vocal in response.
ETHAN: I don’t see the point. I don’t get them.
STEVE: Do you find that there are real distinctions between Gen X and Gen Z?
ETHAN: No, they’re all people.
STEVE: Are boomers people?
ETHAN: I suppose they’d have to be.
STEVE: Well, Ethan, that was a very inclusive thing for you to say, and I appreciate it.
I listed attributes often applied to Generation Z and asked the students if those traits apply to them:
» Value higher education.
» Technologically savvy.
» Community oriented.
» Strong sense of social responsibility.
» Desire to lead change in sustainable development.
» Especially willing to purchase goods and services online.
Makaila conceded that she is not technologically astute. Ethan does not find that he feels compelled toward social responsibility. Otherwise, the panelists said each of the attributes could fairly be used to characterize them.
Similarly, the students were unanimous in seeing items on the following list of workplace characteristics as desirable.
» Meaningful work.
» Inclusive company culture.
» Opportunities for professional growth.
» Stability and work/life balance.
» Presence of cutting-edge technology.
To that list, Ethan and Justine said they would add “diversity.”
As to sources of news, Makaila, Justine and Yamaan said they rely on social media. Ethan said he doesn’t follow the news.
ETHAN: I usually get it from my parents who say, “Did you see this on the news? I know you didn’t, but I just wanted you to know.” I just don’t think about the news. In a lot of it, there are things that I don’t want to see. There are stories that want to make me change how I think about things, and I’m not interested in that.
The students said that they have never been led to make a purchase by an influencer. Michael, who had now arrived, said he takes product reviews into account after taking steps to determine they are legitimate. I asked the panelists whether they would be more inclined to post a negative or a positive review. Yamann was quick to reply.
YAMAaN: A negative one.
STEVE: Have you ever posted a negative review?
YAMAaN: One time. There is a furniture place on the beach, and I had a bunch of scratches on a drawer and the guy was supposed to come and like paint over it, and he came and looked at it, but he never did it. I was kinda angry, so I posted a negative review.
I explored factors in buying decisions.
STEVE: Would you purchase a chicken sandwich from a fast-food chain whose owner has given large sums of money to an organization that opposes federal protections from discrimination for members of the LGBTQ+ community?
MICHAEL: A good example is right now. Student Affairs is giving away Chick-fil-A sandwiches. And if I was hungry and I hadn’t had lunch, I might just take one because they are already paid for, and not taking one wouldn’t make any difference at the end of the day.
STEVE: Would you purchase a car from a manufacturer who has been caught cheating on fuel emission standards?
YAMAAN: I would, if the price was right and the car was reliable.
Asked if they would use a social media platform if its owner steadfastly resisted the call for measures to protect users’ privacy, all said they would not.
STEVE: Would you patronize a restaurant that continued to serve Maine lobsters despite the fact that their numbers are plummeting due to rising sea temperatures?
ETHAN: If I knew, I would say no.
I went on to explore questions of company values.
STEVE: What corporate values do you most look for in companies?
JUSTINE: Mine would be how they handle sexual harassment. A lot of corporations don’t like to take as much action as I would hope. Yeah, that would be a big one for me.
ETHAN: Trust — if I can trust them and they can trust me.
MICHAEL: Equity and inclusion. My mom, she emigrated from the Philippines and for the 20-plus years she’s been here, she has had to deal with discrimination in the teaching profession, even though she has a master’s degree and is one of the few teachers around who is qualified to teach special needs children. She constantly has to put extra effort in to get jobs that others easily get, even before they are licensed.
STEVE: How would you go about satisfying yourselves that a company lives by the values it espouses on its website?
JUSTINE: Probably look up whether they have gotten into trouble in public and how they handled it.
MAKAILA: I would look at what the staff has had to say about the business like if they had a page where the employees talk about their actual experiences with the company.
MICHAEL: A values statement is like a first step. Having it is better than not having it, but it doesn’t sway me that much either way.
JUSTINE: I am very environmentally involved, you could say. In one of my favorite stores, you can buy these tote bags and if you buy one, the company plants a tree. I have like a hundred totes from this place. And you can go on their website and see all that they have done for the environment.
ETHAN: Current political values matter to me. If I see something that doesn’t align with my beliefs, I will immediately walk out of that store and make other people walk out of that store, too.
The conversation grew animated after the students all said they don’t drink water from throw-away plastic bottles (barring an event like a boil-water order) and talked about their preference for personal, customizable (with stickers) water bottles.
JUSTINE: My water bottle is gigantic. It’s 64 ounces and I drink 128 ounces a day if I can. I like being able to refill my drink whenever I want to without having to buy another one. And, somebody’s water bottle can tell you a lot about them. My favorite color is blue. On my old one, I had stickers all over it. I’ll also say that I carry mine as like a defense weapon. I leave campus late some nights, and it’s kinda sketchy walking to your car by yourself and 64 ounces to a head is not going to feel nice.