5 words all student leaders need to hear
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I offer the following five reminders for student leaders as they seek to get the most out of the experience and help their group make a significant impact on campus.
This is an important time for black college students and the black community as a whole. With the movement for black lives and the upcoming election cycle as backdrops, schools are also addressing their own localized challenges around diversity, microaggressions in the classroom, sexual violence prevention and more. Student organizations can and do play a major role in driving these conversations; often, this is embedded within the group’s mission statement. Don’t lose sight of the part that you and your group have in making your campus a better place for current students and those to come. Your work can also extend far beyond your campus, inspiring organizations at other schools and connecting with larger community-based efforts to move the social justice needle forward.
Co-sponsoring activities with other groups allows the work and resources to be spread out and will typically draw a larger crowd. Successful partnerships require planning and communication, so don’t simply assume that adding more organization names to the flyer will magically make everything better. Map out expectations and roles. Be diligent about seeking funding for events, tapping nontraditional sources as well as the usual suspects. Work with your advisers to think through the details, and make sure you are marketing and communicating with people using the right mediums and with clear messages. Snap a few photos and/or a quick video of the event in progress and share on social media. Do a quick write-up or send out a brief assessment survey to determine whether this is an event that should continue in the future, and look at what areas can be improved.
Finally, look into opportunities to connect your bigger organizational ideas to your coursework. For example, you could write a research paper on your organization’s history, interviewing the founders and some of the past leaders. You could do a formal program assessment of your hallmark annual activity. You could make a documentary exploring the ways that your group addressed a critical campus issue. The possibilities are endless; when you think through ways to make these connections, you’ll come up with all sorts of ideas.
Just because something has to be done, doesn’t mean that you are the one who’s supposed to do it. This is a tough notion for those of us who subscribe to the “if you want it done right, you must do it yourself” school of thought. But it’s critical to remember that as a leader, you’re tasked with helping others develop their leadership skills, too. When people run for a board position or sign on to join a committee, they are indicating their interest in what the group represents. If they aren’t asked to be a part of shaping the group’s ideas and activities, they will often find other outlets to connect with. You will have to create opportunities to build trust, to communicate, and help the next wave of leaders understand the campus landscape. Delegation isn’t simply handing someone a list of things to do. It’s about collaboratively setting expectations and helping them be successful. Investing a little bit of time into this process in the beginning will more quickly empower committee members, boards, and other student volunteers to do more on their own in the future. Related to this is the importance of mapping out a clear transition plan for the next student leadership team.
As a student of color in college, you will get multiple educations. There’s the classroom education, the extracurricular and student leadership education and the identity politics education (race, class, gender, nationality, religion, sexual orientation). It’s a lot (and that’s an understatement). The combination of all of these equips us to have perspective and insight that's unparalleled. It also presents a slippery slope that you must recalibrate daily. How can you prioritize an academic activity over your sense of well-being, particularly when the academic exercise might not seem all that relevant in the moment? This is the perpetual struggle of college life. You have to remind yourself that you're responsible for your grades, and that it’s important to do your absolute best. Surround yourself with an enriching community, friends and mentors who can push and inspire you, resources that can help you unpack the difficult concepts, and caring spaces where you can recharge. Know that you don’t have to check every classmate who says something reckless. Or, at least, you don’t have to check them in that moment right before your midterm. Being strategic and keeping the long game in mind will help you get the most academic wins possible and maximize your multiple educations.
You’re going to have to make some tough calls in your leadership tenure. Sometimes your group won’t have the budget to do everything you want to do. Sometimes a certain program or partnership just won’t make sense. Sometimes you may be asked to work on something for the group, but realistically, you'll be putting your grades and your mental wellness in jeopardy if you commit. We think we can do everything, especially when we’re caught up in the moment and we’re surrounded by peers who we believe are equally omnipotent based on their resumes and involvement. But keep in mind, success is built on sound decision-making and smart investments of time and resources. Saying yes to everything every time is not part of the formula. Before you commit to something, don’t simply think about whether you have the time to do it. Consider whether it’s actually worth your time and whether it’s something you and your organization need to engage with.
Brian is the Director of Makuu: The Black Cultural Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of 'Higher Learning: Maximizing Your College Experience.' Follow him @brianpeterson and at http://www.learnhigher.com