When I was a student leader, I told myself that I wouldn’t be the alumni always talking about how things were “back in my day”. That’s counterproductive. I pledged to always work with future HBCU leaders to identify problems and come up with effective solutions so everyone can win. That’s what I’ve dedicated my nearly two years post-grad doing. Yet, I’ve started to see trends that signal that we are heading to a horrible place in our student advocacy. And if we head to that sunken place, the concept of what a student leader is supposed to be will be irreparable.
The rise of Kamala Harris and Terrence J is a perfect example of student leadership. They served in leadership positions within their institutions and achieved immense success. You’d think these success stories would power the urge to serve our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. You’d think seeing an HBCU educated woman become the Vice President of the United States would inspire a surge of leaders ready to start their journey towards history. We’ve seen the opposite. Student leadership isn’t about advocacy anymore. It’s about accolades; it’s about accumulating the hours that you need to pledge. It’s about accentuating yourself to get likes and followers.
We’ve seen a rise in unopposed races for SGA and Royal Court positions over the last couple of years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Do students respect these positions? We’re so caught up in what we want individually that we don’t cater to the needs of the students and communities that we serve. Isn’t that what we criticize politicians for? Wasn’t the movement this past election to get leaders that understand our experiences and can advocate for us? Yet, we don’t hold ourselves to that same standard.
Standard is the most important word in this equation. What is the legacy that we’re leaving generations of leaders to follow? Constantly, I see HBCU Leaders being used like puppets by organizations that could care less about them. It’s all good vibes because you get to be seen though right? Our constant need to be the center of attention has made our culture no different than a high school lunchroom on TV. Campaign Week is nothing more than a huge costume party as people race to see how many endorsements they can get as if that is what shows your university that you’re right to serve them.
Social media has been our biggest tool and worst enemy. Instead of fixing our problems at our institutions we compare ourselves to others. We network with no sense of purpose and would rather hop on a TikTok challenge than think of ways to change the fabric of our surroundings. Student leadership is powerful. We’re the first faces that prospective students see when they walk on our campuses. We can shape legislation that controls the fabric of student life. We set the culture that influences how students perceive their collegiate experience. Why don’t we see our power?
When we start to recognize the importance of what we do, that’s when we will start to see the renaissance of leadership on our campuses. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard. That standard should start the first time we walk on campus. However, everyone’s journey is different and that’s ok. At the very least, the standard should start once we campaign for our positions. And, when we get in these positions, Maybe then we’ll get to where we’re supposed to be.
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