Society and Culture

#ThingsCollegeKidsDontGet: Twitter Users Slam Millennials

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Earlier today, the hashtag #ThingsCollegeKidsDontGet began trending, prompting tons of funny, serious, and occasionally thought-provoking responses. Those who used the hashtag appeared to fall into two camps–some college students used it to lament the economic climate they’ve inherited–citing “affordable tuition,” “jobs,” and “a break” as things they don’t get. But there was also a way louder voice using the hashtag–those who are critical of college students following recent instances of contentious protests about race and equality across the country, most notably Mizzou and Yale. The hashtag is an interesting look into the generational divide in the U.S. that may be widening even further.

Let’s take a look at the tweets from those who believe that college students are overly sensitive:

The narrative that college students have become increasingly over-sensitive is a popular one right now. Pew conducted a widely-circulated poll that appeared to indicate that it’s true–40 percent of millennial respondents answered that the government should be allowed to limit speech that is offensive to minorities. In contrast, only 27 percent of Gen X-ers felt that way, as well as 24 percent of boomers, and 12 percent of the silent generation.

In light of the recent protests at Mizzou, Yale, and other schools, many (mostly conservative) writers and thinkers pointed to that Pew poll as evidence that millennials were overly sensitive and didn’t appreciate or understand the First Amendment. But is the concept that young people, particularly college students, are way more likely to be offended a fair assessment? Not so fast–these numbers can’t be taken out of context, and this is way more nuanced than a straight up-and-down vote on free speech. Jesse Singal, of NY Magazine, pointed out that the numbers reported by Pew weren’t some sort of crazy outlier just happening with American millennials. Singal stated, in regards to American tendencies when discussing free speech attitudes:

They’ve shown over and over again that they favor free speech in theory, when asked about it in the broadest terms, but they also tend to be fairly enthusiastic about government bans on forms of speech they find particularly offensive (what’s considered offensive, of course, changes with the times). On this subject, millennials are right in line with reams of past polling, and it would be wrong to hold up last week’s results as an example of anything other than an extremely broad tendency that’s existed for a long time.

There’s also not necessarily compelling evidence that college environments are turning our young people toward reactionary sensitivity. Michael McGough, of the Los Angeles Times, pointed out that “it seems that college students and college graduates are less prone to support punishment of ‘offensive’ speech than those who haven’t attended college.”

But this isn’t just all about numbers–there is, generally speaking, a legitimate and frustrating ideological split among older Americans and younger Americans when it comes to things like free speech and what constitutes “offensive.” #ThingsCollegeStudentsDontGet seems to be a manifest of that frustration–and indicative of the fact that the generational divide on social issues is very much alive and well. 

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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