We’ve All Got Issues. Gen Z is here to do something about it.

Universities are supposed to be a safe haven for discourse and self-expression. It’s like totally your time to speak your mind. But is that ability to safely self express still true today? What value does your campus place on advocacy and debate?

Taking a look at the social issues facing the incoming generation of students, and checking them against the values of your institution can illuminate some important marketing points.

Keep in mind that Gen Z is inspired by all things altruistic. Studies indicate they care way more about how issues impact the collective community than how they affect them personally.

This is a generation that practices what it preaches, and demands the same from the brands it aligns with. From the college they attend to the handbags, headphones, crop tops and Converse they buy, incoming students want transparency and a brand they can believe in. If your school walks the walk, and is a space that nurtures open debate and demanding better—then be sure to promote it in your enrollment messaging.

Gen Z not only challenges how brands communicate, it challenges the very notion of a brand’s authenticity and transparency.

— “Welcome to the Gen Z Challenge,” Ad Age, December 27, 2016

If it’s forced, forget about it.

Tip: Check yourself. Are the images you use authentic? False or forced diversity is not an answer. Be real, be aware and continue to work to revisit your marketing language to filter out any unintentional prejudice.

With constant access to world issues, Gen Z doesn’t just know about them, they want to do something about them and have the tools to do so. Describing themselves as loyal, thoughtful, compassionate, open-minded and responsible, Gen Z students are equipped with maturity, focus and compassion for others. With a mix of traditional and non-conformist values and behaviors, this generation is ready to make a difference.

Here are just a few of the issues that matter most to them now.

Human rights done right.

Socially liberal to moderate, Gen Z grew up with equality and have come to expect it at home and at work. Gen Z is about coming together globally and seeing diversity as an essential part of collaborating to solve the world’s problems, share different perspectives and strengthen society. For Gen Z, social equality is non-negotiable and education is the gateway.

Defying sexual discrimination.

When it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, gay rights today are very different than a decade ago. Gen Z may not be aware of prior discrimination issues but they do know about the debate over same-sex marriage, and will likely help shape future policies involving adoption, workplace protection and antidiscrimination rights in the future.

Tip: How are your campus LGBTQ support resources? Housing options? Peer networks and communities? Consider the inclusive options you have and don’t neglect to communicate about them.


This generation is writing new rules that favor liberal viewpoints on things like race, gender, identity and sexuality. Socially and technologically empowered, they are arriving on the scene at a crucial moment in history.

— “Gen Z Is On The Rise, Here Is What You Need To Know,” Forbes, Jan 4, 2017

Feeling the impact.

Studies show, being environmentally minded was already tied to higher education when Millennials were stepping onto campus. Gen Z will be forced to feel the impact of environmental choices made by previous generations and their own. The good news they seem ready for the challenges ahead with a positive perspective about changes that can and need to be made.

Living up to expectations.

Gen Z holds itself to a higher standard and expects the same from you. They want you to stand for something whether it’s equality, environment or human rights. Here are some things to think about as you try to connect with Gen Z.

  • Does advocacy have a place in your messaging? If your institutional culture is one that nourishes engagement with causes – consider which issues you can highlight. This is less about taking sides, and more about sending the message that your campus is a place to build your own personal voice – and that the expression of it is welcomed and encouraged.
  • Is the mission of your institution rooted in a cause? The history of your university may seem like old news to you. But the roots of your school’s founding can also tell a story about change advocacy or breaking convention. If altruism is in your school’s DNA, and remains true, Gen Z wants to know about it. The simple act of sharing it may inspire others to follow and forge their own altruistic path.
  • What does your university stand for? Students don’t expect you to stand for everything, but they do expect you stand for something. If you try to fake it, they’ll see right through it and you’ve lost them, most likely for good. Not good. Keep it real, and keep it focused on what makes sense for your campus and students. You can start small or highlight what you’re already doing and go from there. And be sure to a provide some way for students to express what they believe in.
  • What students and alumni do you choose to feature? Is advocacy part of how you define success? If so, you should promote students and alumni who are currently or have gone on to make a difference. Share their stories and let it be known that advocacy matters to your university. By featuring personal stories you’ll show what you stand for and how the altruistic environment inspires students to express themselves and make a difference.

Above all else, stay true to what you stand for and be authentic and transparent as you communicate who you are as an institution. You’ll not only build trust but you’ll connect with the right students in the right way. When it comes to altruism and authenticity, Gen Z doesn’t just want it, it demands it. Just keep it real and it won’t be an issue. Because ready or not, here they come.


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