The Question Matters

Robyn Waxman: Next Generation Leader

Posted in Change,Generation Y,Next Generation Leaders by treyfinley1008 on December 11, 2009

There’s more to life than complaining about what’s wrong.  That’s been a charge leveled at Gen X for quite some time.  It will probably not be a charge directed at Gen Y.  In my experience, members of Gen Y are more likely to be social entrepreneurs, environmental advocates, and sacrificial volunteers. Robyn Waxman has seen the same.

Generation Y Doesn’t Believe that Noise is Necessary for Change

Robyn Waxman, a graduate student at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, has seen these traits in her Gen Y students for quite some time.  What she didn’t see was a willingness to embrace conflict as a necessary part of change.  Rather than pushing her Gen Y students to get noisy and disruptive (a la Boomers in the 60s), she realized:

“…if confrontational behavior was not in their nature, then she would have to introduce a form of more perpetual protest. Waxman sought to have a group of students physically reclaim a strip of public land bordering the school’s street, which CCA shares with homeless residents as well as day laborers. Waxman believed they could intervene agriculturally on the block–which was littered with hypodermic needles–by growing enough food for the neighbors. ‘We were three transient populations brought together by a piece of toxic land that held the potential for building community and for addressing a food issue,’ she remembers.”

Robyn and Her Students Learned from One Another

Since the land was public property, Robyn was going to have to engage multiple groups–school and government organizations included–in order to accomplish her goals.  While she initially planned to use more forceful methods of claiming the strip of land, her Gen Y students encouraged her to (gasp!) ask.  City government was so grateful for a redeeming use of this drug-infested strip of land that they willingly and easily gave the students the land in order to convert into a farm.

“Protest doesn’t have to be something that people hate,” says Waxman. “That’s what makes it so enticing for this generation.” In a way, the FARM process becomes a very political, very personal, but still unprescribed way for designers to take part in a creative process–one that has a physical place for gathering and interaction–and that’s what really appeals to Millennials. “It becomes a prolonged place of engagement, making a place their own, and taking things into their own hands,” she says. Waxman hopes she’s shown the next generation that there are ways to engage in collective action which are subversive, productive, and quite honestly, delicious.

I applaud Robyn for engaging Gen Y’s social engagement and desire for building community rather than tearing it down.  She’s taught me something about my slightly younger friends: Change for the sake of change–especially if it involves tearing down community–simply isn’t valued by Gen Y.


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