The Online Beacon

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Student Leaders

Student+Leaders
Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Become a leader.”

As college students we have heard this phrase since the application season of our senior year of high school. Making your mark on your campus, and becoming a leader within your community are some of the standard pieces of advice given to incoming college freshmen, and for good reason. Getting involved at your college can help generate social and professional connections, provide an avenue to pressure one’s passions, and could potentially diversify one’s resume. Above all else, becoming a leader on campus can be fulfilling and can allow you to try to influence your school to be the best it can be. 

As a student leader myself, I truly do believe in the power of student leadership. Similarly to other active members of the campus community, I began participating in leadership early in life and continued to do so as I came to college. It can often feel like since you have decided to be active within the community, you must always be active within the community. This often means most student leaders hold multiple roles on college campuses. 

At a small liberal arts college like MCLA, this phenomenon is even more likely to happen. A smaller student body means that a higher percentage of students are more likely to adopt a leadership position. Meaning the overall expected labor and responsibilities, usually delegated to campus leaders, is placed upon the smaller group of student leaders; thus meaning the majority of these students hold multiple positions of authority or leadership on campus. 

Positions of leadership like being on the E-board of a club or working on campus may not help you get a job out on the real world, but it can help your chances of earning scholarships and winning awards from your college, which can be included on applications to grant admissions to places of higher education like graduate or medical school. While this system seems fair initially, give labor and receive reward, it fails to acknowledge the systemic discrimination present within student leadership. Due to the time commitment necessary to become involved on campus, as well as most activities at colleges being mainly created and marketed towards residential students, the majority of student leaders are folks who live on campus and do not work full time.

This excludes many student groups, including those paying for college on their own, non-traditional students with families and full-time jobs, and commuter students who do not live close to campus. By centering the residential student experience, particularly those with more free time due to being “full-time students”, the collegiate leadership system becomes inherently executionary. 

Furthermore, this leaves another group of students extremely vulnerable; “the perfect minority”. Students with marginalized identities often feel an elevated pressure to succeed in order to disprove negative sentiments about their specific identity group. It can feel as if one must represent for those with a similar identity, and therefore one has to be exceptional. As a young queer person I have often used my drive for success as something to deflect criticism of my sexuality and gender identity. Due to knowing my identity, my own personhood was already a “hurdle” or “struggle” for some to accept. I felt a pressure to achieve a high level of success and become a leader in order to gain respect from those who would otherwise undervalue me. 

This has lead to me adopt numerous responsibilities and leadership roles here on campus. Beyond my work with The Beacon, I am an Admissions Ambassador, Writing Studio Associate, Teacher’s Assistant, Poli-Sci club E-board member, and a Peer Mentor. This listing of labor is not to emphasize my accomplishments or to glorify stretching one’s self thin. I find great personal fulfillment from all of these positions, and am paid or given credit for almost all of them. I also know student’s who do far more than me, whose impact I could not even dream of reaching. More over, I list these positions to highlight the immense pressure student leaders feel, and the pressure to be a leader in every aspect of one’s life. 

This constant pressure to lead, to be “on”, happy and smiling in your devotion to the numerous positions you have pledged your dedication is the student leader’s most fundamental downfall. By choosing to be a student leader, you are choosing to have your time, mental energy, and physical wellbeing be on permanent loan to all those around you. Trips to the cafeteria become E-board meetings or interventions for those you are expected to guide. Your email is the one chosen for any and all questions, and your quiet time alone in the library an unofficial “no invite needed” office hour. 

All of this is not to say that student leaders are pure virtuous martyrs who you should pity, but rather that they are complex individual human beings who are expected to be the exact opposite. If you have ever been involved in leadership you have likely heard the phrase “Student first”, which is meant to act as a reminder to both student leaders and those involved with their management that while they may assume extra responsibilities, student leaders are students first. Perhaps this reminder of our position as students is not enough protect student leaders from exploitation and burnout. We must remember our own personhood above all else. It is this radical action to consider student leaders to be not even students.

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About the Contributor
Jaden Jackson, Staff Writer / Social Media Manager

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