We all know the type of student. In fact, if you’re reading a student affairs blog, you probably are or were that type of student. The one who always ran for president of the students’ association of anything. The one that volunteered to table at Open House. The one whose “Extracurricular Opportunities” section takes up three pages on their CV. These are the students who make our campus come alive and bring life to, well, student life.
But what drives them to get involved and what can we do as student affairs professionals to support that drive?
In recent conversations with involved students, when I ask why they got so involved on campus, they often say it was to “change things for the better” or “make a difference”. Of course, we know that there are other motivations and benefits, but this is the thread that seems to emanate time and time again when you talk with those who consistently take on leadership positions on campus. I was expecting more inward-looking responses about personal development or network-building, but instead, most students talked about wanting to leverage these opportunities to effect positive change.
I think we often forget this critical part of student co-curricular involvement. Often, the dialogue about involvement centers on what students individually get out of involvement. (Friends! New skills! The opportunity to explore existent or unearthed passions and interests!). However, what we don’t often talk about is the systemic consequences of student involvement. After all, every campus group and every student in it are trying to make a positive change on campus, in the local community, or on a more global scale. From the cheerleaders who want to change the engagement at our athletics events to the model UN-ers who want to change the discourse on international relations among young people.
For those of us that work in student life or with student leaders, I would ask you to think about what you are doing to make sure that your students can make a change. I know many of us focus on helping them find their interests, hone the needed skills to excel in their positions, work collaboratively in teams, or help connect with their community. However, how many of us focus on helping students make a change? We all know first-hand how difficult that is, so we could only imagine what it must be like for our ever-changing student body. Unfortunately, students are at once the ones most impacted by their campus and community environments but also the ones least able or adept at intervening into these institutional systems and creating notable and long-lasting improvements.
Of course, none of this is new or startling. The famed Social Change Model of Leadership Development is centered (literally) on the concept of change. Yet I know I am often blinded by the 7 Values Cs, (How can students have a greater consciousness of self? How can students collaborate more towards a common purpose? etc.), and overlook what it’s all about: helping students ensure they are making that integral, positive change.
So whether you are promoting involvement or helping those who are involved, just remember that one thing should be consistent: change.