The Millennial Snowflake and Educational Institutions in the 1990s and Early Aughts

Self-care and empathy are the anecdote to trauma within a generation that has been constantly shamed.

Julia Knox
Age of Awareness
4 min readSep 18, 2020


Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

The direct correlation between shame and wellbeing is epitomized by millennials and the industry of self-care. Millennial consumer habits are tied to the self-care industry, which exacerbates the derogatory stereotype of the “Millennial Snowflake”. Perhaps instead of continuing to lament the losses experienced by the Millennial and their subsequent “failures”, we should see what we can learn from these patterns.

Millennials came of age during the Great Recession, and many experienced extreme financial and emotional hardship when told they should be planting the seeds of their future success. From the years 2004 to 2017, American student loan debt has increased by 302%. Americans over 60 years of age began taking out loans: Borrowers over 60 increased by 1,256% during the same period. The student loan balance for the country has increased by $80 billion since the year 2004, and the average Millennial carries $42,000 in debt. This phenomenon has also exacerbated racial disparities. The educational debt of an average American-American female takes up 111% of her first-year salary. Instead of addressing this unsustainable pattern and the ballooning of institutional wealth, particularly in regard to administrative pay, Millennials are accused of destroying “marriage, romance, and the McWrap.”

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash

Our collective awareness of self-care and trauma is new. Post-traumatic stress disorder was only coined by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980, largely in response to the impact of the Vietnam War. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans discrimination based on disability status, was not signed into law until 1990. Until college, I didn’t know that people could have accommodations for a learning disability. Schools often did not protect students from discrimination, bullying, or harassment. In middle school in the early Aughts, I distinctly recall classmates using the words “gay” and “retarded” as derogatory slurs. In high school, there was unabashed harassment of minority students, and it was enacted by the most popular kids in school. I had never heard of the term “safe space”. There were no conversations about consent or safe spaces in high school. As young adults, it is understandable that my generation would experience a rebirth through the understanding of these concepts.

While conservatives express frustration with “safe spaces” and the rise in “P.C. Culture,” we should all be aware that these are the first manifestations of this type of much-needed awareness. Is it perfect? Of course not. But neither is the current social norms that remain in response to stress, struggle, and trauma.

I think there are many Millennials whom others might deem “snowflakes.” People who grew up being called “gay” or “retarded” or “disgusting” without the adults nearby batting an eye. Author Brene Brown says, “empathy is the antidote to shame.” We all carry things within us that require love to heal. They could be aspects of ourselves that society has deemed unfit. They could be past regrets and amalgamations of small mistakes. It could be the debt we agreed to take on at the naive age of 18. Shame thrives because it silences us, and its effects on the body are toxic. Self-care is something we all require. We all require love, and someone to listen. Like Mr. Rogers said, “You are special.” We are all special, and there is room for all of our differences, our quirky snowflake edges. Uniqueness should not be chided, and people who shed themselves of shame by publicly sharing and celebrating their differences should be supported. Inside, they are all of us.


Brown, Brene. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. 2017: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Friedman MJ (October 2013). “Finalizing PTSD in DSM-5: getting here from there and where to go next”. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 26 (5): 548 — 56. doi:10.1002/jts.21840. PMID 24151001

Millennials Have $42,000 in Debt. CNBC.

Rogers, Fred. You Are Special (Song). | © 1968, Fred M. Rogers

Things Millenials Have Killed. Mashable.

The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Brief Overview.



Julia Knox
Age of Awareness

Poet-Hearted Social Scientist. I write, therefore I think. |