Survey offers promise

The terrorist attacks Sept. 11 changed much regarding how Americans view themselves and the world. While the change has been mostly beneficial, a study released last week by University of California at Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute indicates much of the nation’s youth were on the right track before the attacks.

The annual Cooperative Institutional Research Program is a survey of more than 400,000 freshmen entering four-year colleges and universities – including the University – and is perhaps the most widely used indicator for the pulse of the class.

But this year’s survey, which revealed encouraging – and in some cases record-breaking – statistics regarding socially progressive attitudes, is being called into question for its accuracy because so much has happened since respondents answered their questions.

We hope, however, that most of this year’s interviewees have not been jaded by the actions of a few crazed individuals. Too much promise would be lost if they were.

For instance, the study states “a record high 57.9 percent of this year’s freshmen believe that same sex couples should have the right to legal marital status,” a nearly 2 percent increase from last year. And less than 25 percent believe the United States should enact laws prohibiting homosexual relationships.

Numbers like these pervade the study and suggest a shift toward more liberal attitudes is – or at least was – underway. Perhaps the most encouraging of these was the 32.2 percent of respondents who favored abolishing the death penalty, up a full percent from last year.

This mindset, coupled with the indication of a trend, bodes well for the future of U.S. society. The numbers suggest we might finally be able to cast off the cultural fear that to follow the lead of the rest of the world – most of which has forsaken the state-sanctioned killing of a nation’s own citizens – would undo that which makes us great. We can ill afford to remain in league with the five other nations who allow the execution of minors. A public rejection of the dubious distinction of being in agreement with nations such as China, Iraq and Iran on this topic is long overdue.

The CIRP results also show many more freshmen – 31.4 percent – believe keeping abreast of political issues is “essential,” and a record-high 47.5 percent have participated in organized demonstrations. These seem to show that not only does this generation feel strongly about the betterment of their country but are willing to act on it as well.

Though it probably is presumptuous to say this incoming class are the ones who might finally make some of the changes our society has sorely needed for so long, it at least bears noting that they have the necessary ideals and motivation. And perhaps that sort of thing is said regularly every few years, but if anything is worth repeating, this certainly ranks near the top.