A recent study from the University of Michigan found that college students have less empathy now than any other generation, analyzing the results of a personality test taken by 14,000 U of M students over the past thirty years.
These findings are disturbing for a few different reasons. These statistics matter because individuals who cannot feel empathy towards others are more likely to abuse and not be aware of the painful consequences of their victims. The inability to sympathize with another’s pain or difficulties may also cut down on the number of individuals willing to be bystanders and to step in and help someone who is a victim of abuse or violence of any kind.
The SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape) blog discusses the importance of prevention programs that emphasize empathy for ending violence of all kinds. It is possible to increase our capacity for empathy. But in order to do so, anti-violence prevention programs must have a component in them about feeling compassion for others. When we start to objectify other people by seeing community and social issues (racism, sexism, homophobia, relationship violence and sexual assault) as “individual” problems, we make social change impossible. It is only through envisioning a collective responsibility that we can work to make a safer, more inclusive world for everyone.
One way that the UNC-Chapel Hill campus is working to make its students more empathetic is through its One Act program. Click here for more details.