Ask the Expert: Gen Z

Gen z

Photo courtesy of James Madison University.

The expert advice to answer your most pressing questions. This month, Steve Bobbitt, the associate director for Programming at James Madison University, shares advice on Gen Z.

How is Gen Z different from other generations before it?

SB: To understand Gen Z or any generation, you have to look back at their parents, in this case, late Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers. These generations were pushed by their parents to develop and become independent by the time they were 18. Gen Z parent’s reaction has been to allow their children to “be a kid” as long as possible. This means today’s 18-year-olds are a bit more like 16-year-olds 20 years ago. It’s not surprising many students are ready intellectually but not socially.

How is Gen Z different than past generations in terms of campus recreation?

SB: Technology has been infused into their entire life, so access to information is easy. They have been exposed to different possibilities for use of their free time, so campus recreation needs to reflect the diversity of choices out there. The days of offering just basketball and a free weight gym are long gone. Current students want to have a variety of drop-in recreation and fitness options. This means creating variety and depth as you design spaces and programs to serve the most students possible.

How is this generation similar?

SB: Creating spaces for student connection had remained unchanged, but now has intensified as current students need to find a peer support system to help them continue to develop where their parents left off. A shifting focus from intramural sports to sport clubs is an example of this, where students seek out those activities to help them connect from Day One versus creating a support system from those who happen to be living near them in the dorms.

What are the top three ways to bring Gen Z into recreation and wellness centers?

SB: First, it’s creating equality among programming units so different types of students can find a place in your department. Creating opportunities to not restrict participation or access via fees is also an important part of this. Second is the creation of inclusive recreation options that reach out to different types of students. This could mean keeping pickleball and badminton set up all the time. Offering adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball or goal ball shows your students you are going beyond the traditional and gives them permission to be a beginner. Finally, creating diversity in fitness spaces and being ready to change those up as needed is key.

What are the top three strategies for serving Gen Z?

SB: No. 1, sport club programming is key to helping students fill that need for connections. No. 2, well-being-based educational programs are being sought out by students who are looking to continue their development and expand their knowledge with hands-on programming being sought after. No. 3, adventure programming continues to rise in popularity.

If you could tell campus rec professionals one thing about Gen Z, what would it be?

SB: No matter the generation, it’s our job to work with “students as they are” when they arrive on campus, regardless of their developmental level. It’s constantly changing, so to be the most effective campus recreation professional, you have to be a student on how students develop.   

Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at heather@peakemedia.com.

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