By Jenna Mink

I don’t know when it happened. I don’t exactly know why it happened. But, over the past decade, people stuck a label on our generation and that label tattooed today’s youth with adjectives such as apathetic, shallow-minded and ignorant. But I beg to differ.Until a few months ago, I shared those negative views about my own generation. In my mind, our lives were too cluttered with Internet chats, iPods and gossip magazines. Real issues, such as the declining economy or unceasing foreign conflicts, did not top our priorities.

But as I stood in line in Powell cafeteria today, I overheard two guys in front of me talking. And out of all the back-to-school, post-Christmas hoopla, they were talking about Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and the upcoming presidential election. And that’s when it hit me: our generation does care about issues that matter, and it’s unfair to treat us like we wear a perpetual handkerchief over our eyes and a piece of tape over our mouths.

In fact, Obama geared his campaign toward the younger generation from the get-go. And it paid off.

Analysts predicted Obama’s support from our generation helped nail down his victory in Iowa’s primary. His message of change appealed to young voters. Imagine that; the same generation, which some say is self-absorbed and is only connected to the world through the Web, wants this country to change. Some youth even stepped away from their laptops, plucked their MP3 earpieces from their ears and voted for change.

Our generation’s support of Obama in Iowa influenced other candidates’ campaigns, most notably Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton. Clinton reached out to more young voters during her New Hampshire tour, which launched on the heels of a loss in Iowa.

About 43 percent of voters in the New Hampshire primary were under the age of 30. Only 18 percent of young voters showed up to the New Hampshire primary in 2004, according to a study published on civicyouth.org.

But the younger generation is stapling its influence to this election with more than just votes. Students across the nation are investing time in their candidate-of-choice’s campaign.

On Eastern’s campus, students set up tables and hand out fliers at Powell corner to encourage involvement and promote their favorite candidates. Some students even sport T-shirts that have Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee’s, Republican Ron Paul’s or another candidate’s name splashed across the front.

Facebook, the social Web site that was once used as a quick-fix blog and messaging system for students, has become a campaign tool thanks in large part to its users: the younger generation.

The Facebook group, One Million Strong for Barack, boasts nearly 430,000 members. Thousands of students joined groups that support candidates, such as Clinton, Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. And Eastern students launched a handful of those groups.

But this year’s presidential election is not the only issue students have jumped into. The younger generation is most concerned about the War in Iraq and the crisis in Darfur, according to a study by the Harvard Institute of Politics.

So will students continue to ignore the televised presidential debates to catch the newest episode of “American Idol?”

Of course they will.

Is a big part of our generation ignorant when it comes to national and international issues, but completely educated in “World of Warcraft?”

Of course it is.

But, as the economy continues to plunge and presidential candidates continue to make promises, I think more of us are starting to pay attention. We are turning off the iPods and taking off the blindfolds.