Student Involvement & Activism
As Student Affairs professionals we are often in a position in which we are guiding our student leaders or asked for advice or support on current social change situations facing students today. This places us in a position of authority but one of opportunity for learning, as well. The landscape of the college student experience is changing and in moments of off and on-campus activism we are gifted with an opportunity to be thoughtful and purposeful in our guidance and response.
Most often our guidance takes a formal path where we are meeting with our student leaders one-on-one or with a student organization during one of their regularly scheduled meetings. These are regimented opportunities to encourage these individuals to flex their leadership muscles, to encourage them to reach for the stars, teach them that it is okay to fail, help them recover gracefully, and to learn and do better or differently the next time in instances that do not end well.
Then there are the rarer, but even more pivotal opportunities in our careers when we guide our students in a more impromptu setting. It is those crucial moments when we are faced with a challenge or situation and we must act in a way that role models for our students the right, just, and ideally peaceful approach to handling difficult and challenging situations. Our actions are under the microscope of our colleagues and students and we are poised to set a good example.
So how do we handle such situations when we are the ones in the spotlight? I have read a couple of articles recently regarding the enhancement of the student involvement and leadership experience. We are prone to reaffirming for our students what a positive and beneficial experience their leadership role is for their future employability and development. That is the obvious response but the less explicit, is the refreshing approach they take to leadership and what we can learn from them.
The following are five “gifts” (full article here) we can receive from our student leaders that will deepen and develop our approach to, and appreciation for, leadership and management.
- Naïve enthusiasm and optimism—adopt a “take a chance” attitude; put aside your reservations or thoughts that certain actions or behaviors will not produce the intended outcome; try to look at situations with a fresh set of eyes and be willing to relinquish control on the situation to just see where it goes.
- Flexibility and adaptation—it’s all part of the role and “roll with it” mentality; give each task you are faced with equal importance and passion; be willing to do anything and everything; believe that no task or request is beneath you.
- Passion and a sense of justice—allow your passion and drive for justice to melt into your presentation of topics; be authentic—by being genuine and forthright about your passion, you will persuade stakeholders inside and outside the institution. Be careful to not become complacent and attempt to approach each situation without bias and predictability.
- Keep it real—keep things simple and on-the-level; resist the urge to overcomplicate things; try to whittle each situation down to bare bones and then build up from there. Remain focused and intentional about the issue at hand.
- Make it fun—remember to maintain balance in our work; look for opportunities to weave enjoyment and fun into our work, when appropriate. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
There is so much we can learn from our students. I encourage you to go back to your roots, think of the passion you had when you were first hired into the position you hold now. Are there any (or all) of the 5 gifts that you could revisit and embrace more fully? Sometimes it is just a matter of changing your mindset or being more present every day in our jobs. I would like to challenge you to choose one of the five gifts above and to work toward weaving it into your work over the course of the spring semester. Write it down, brainstorm ideas of how you might act and react differently to situations that arise. Commit to the gift and try something new weekly to incorporate that gift into your office and daily work. Warning! You may see a shift in how your colleagues and the students you work with and for respond!
Let’s go Fighting Hawks!