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NC congressman says universities are ‘coddle farms’ for Gen Z. Really? | Opinion

Robert Willett/rwillett@newsobserver.com

Conservatives have long blamed universities for turning young people into snowflakes and social justice warriors. And they complain a lot about “kids these days.”

Such was the case with a North Carolina congressman who recently took to social media to lament what he called “negligence” in higher education.

“There is a theme in some circles of higher education to pamper students rather than prepare them for the real world,” U.S. Rep. Greg Murphy said last week in a tweet. “Some colleges and universities have turned into coddle farms with safe spaces and trigger alerts.”

Coddle farms? Really?

Murphy’s tweet included a link to an April survey in which nearly 75% of managers said Gen Z is more difficult to work with than other generations. The same survey found that more than a quarter of managers say they have fired a Gen Z employee during their first week or month on the job.

According to the survey, one of the top reasons that Gen Z employees get fired is because they are “too easily offended.” For some conservatives, that was proof that Gen Z really is the snowflake generation after all.

Young people are used to hearing rhetoric like this, both explicitly and implicitly. People view Gen Z as entitled, lazy and overly sensitive. Of course, that isn’t new or unique to my generation. A decade ago, they were saying the same thing about millennials.

It’s no surprise that Murphy tried to attribute Gen Z’s perceived shortcomings to the so-called brainwashing that occurs on college campuses. The same people who call me “woke” will say that I must have been indoctrinated at my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill (I wasn’t), or that I must have gotten my degree in gender studies (I didn’t).

Higher education in North Carolina has been under attack for years. Republican lawmakers have stripped the UNC System of funding, meddled in campus affairs and appointed former colleagues and allies to leadership positions. More recently, they’ve threatened to eliminate tenure and more heavily scrutinize faculty research in an attempt to muzzle the supposed libs who are educating North Carolina’s impressionable youth.

Unsurprisingly, none of this has improved the quality of education that students receive, because more time spent on politics means less time spent on academics. So if these “coddle farms” are no longer preparing students for the real world, perhaps Republicans like Murphy should look inward when deciding who to blame.

But the truth is that conservatives don’t actually think young people are stupid. It’s the opposite. They’re scared of what young people can do. Ridiculing Gen Z and targeting higher education is about one thing: gaining control over a group of people that they see as a threat.

It’s why they try to bully us into silence and submission, hoping their words will cause us to doubt our own power. When Donald Trump was president, he used his platform to publicly smear climate activist Greta Thunberg, who at the time was still a teenage girl. Last year, GOP congressman Matt Gaetz body-shamed a 19-year-old abortion activist on social media.

It’s why some Republicans want to disenfranchise young voters, including here in North Carolina. Back in April, GOP legal strategist Cleta Mitchell balked at the ease of campus voting, calling it “this young people effort that they do.” She lamented that polling places are basically “next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote and go back to bed.” The horror!

Some conservatives even suggested that we deprive young people of the right to vote altogether. After Gen Z showed impressive turnout in the 2022 midterms, fending off an expected red wave, some activists and pundits suggested the minimum voting wage should be raised to 21 or even 28.

Young people are powerful. Those who say otherwise aren’t skeptical that our power exists — they’re just afraid we’ll try to use it.