The Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education hosted a lecture featuring a University of Wisconsin alum on Tuesday on the topic of how public universities and students can help restore the governing system, through civic engagement and active involvement in the community.
The talk was led by UW alum Steven Olikara, the founder and president of the Millennial Action Project, which focuses on overcoming partisan gridlock in the government by empowering millennial policymakers.
One of Olikara’s main points was the role institutions of higher education play in impacting the millennial generation.
“The most important thing is that colleges and universities are training the next generation of leaders,” Olikara said. “This is a living laboratory for leadership.”
Olikara said these institutions should create spaces to model constructive civil discourse, such as public forums held on campus and political debates within the student government.
College campuses are centers for public discourse where people can argue ideas in a constructive manner by voicing their own opinions while listening to contrasting views, said Olikara.
“It’s very important that we have a variety of views represented on campus… When you hear another viewpoint, you are sharpening your own view,” Olikara said.
Another key point of the lecture centered on the impact of the media in politics. Olikara said media allows more individuals to participate in civic engagement in less time, because technology accelerates the pace of change.
Olikara believes social media allows people to communicate and crowdsource ideas, but that it may also lead to an echo chamber of rigid or biased beliefs.
“It’s hard to receive the truth today because everything seems to have a slant or a bias,” Olikara said.
Olikara also discussed the rise of millennial independence in today’s political atmosphere. Young people now have an “a la carte” view of politics, meaning they pick and choose ideas irrespective of party lines.
During a tumultuous moment in U.S. government, Olikara believes millennials are disaffiliating themselves from major political parties and seeking an alternative.
“No affiliation is now the fastest growing political affiliation,” said Olikara.