What I’ve learned about community, leadership, and change
Earlier this year, sitting in Darren’s office, I was told that people who partake in student government never leave. A vision flashed before my eyes: me, in birkenstocks, now with glasses and significantly more stress lines, working at Quest, still advocating for student engagement and representation. For a brief moment it didn’t seem too bad. I mean, Darren does it, and he’s basically a superhero-I could dig that. Not to mention that, because the administration of Quest works on a much longer time scale than the students do (around five years to accomplish most changes), I would finally be able to do everything I wanted to do over my meager two years on the SRC.
Flash forward to March 2018 and I no longer dig it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Quest (for all its faults), our community, and especially the SRC. The team this year have been the best I could have asked for. I have learned so much from each of my teammates, and from every challenge we have decided to take on (or involuntarily taken on) together. Regardless of this love, after two years on the SRC, I am quite confident that I will not be in Universities for the rest of my life. Although I believe with all my heart that what we have been working towards over the past two years (Board representation for students, transparency within the Academic Council and other school committees, accountability, the engagement of students with hiring, policy, and decision making, and the inclusivity of campus events…to name a few initiatives) is important, I also believe that a person must keep moving, and pass along the torch to people who bring renewed passion, untapped potential, and new perspectives to the table. This moment has arrived for me, and although I ran unopposed last year (except for the counter “vote non confidence” campaign, of course), I hope that I have not let the community, which I care so deeply about, down. Through this article I hope to highlight some moments of (near) defeat and victory that we have experienced this year, and talk a bit about what I’ve learned over my time on the SRC, trying to work within the system, which I know is not something we at Quest like to do. Hopefully I’ll inspire some of you to get involved in some capacity, it may be exhausting, but it’s worth it.
There are Many Ways to Build Community
When we, the SRC, were told in the fall that Questival would no longer happen unless we picked up the slack, I breathed a sigh of relief. We had the agency to either let this go, or revive it. Deep down I wanted to let it go. I wanted to make space for something else, or save the funds for the years to come. Instead, a committed team of four (including myself), decided to plan a school wide event to rebrand Questival into something more inclusive. Measuring the success of an event is something SRC members have talked about over the years, and still don’t have an answer for. We struggled with Dana hospitality, we struggled with our classes, and personally, I struggled with the fact that I couldn’t really hang out with my friends at an event that I actually wanted to attend. We made awards for every faculty member (and most staff members), most of which did not show up to receive them. We ran out of food. We rediscovered the problem of acoustics at Quest. However, we also made people smile, got to hear Bongani Msubo rock our worlds, got officially introduced to Marilyn Iwama, and enjoyed an evening as a community. Did my grades suffer? Yes. Did I walk away feeling like my team had given some of our fellow Questies a good night? Yes. Whether we call this a success or not, Polaris was an effort to make our community more open, more fun, and more connected. Although not the most political of our initiatives this year, I do believe that togetherness and some good dancing are valuable for any community. Hopefully some vital, energetic, creative people will take what we have started and run with it, making it even more our own, and learn from our mistakes to bring smiles to even more faces. *and don’t hang a wreath up on the stage*
It’s Okay to Say No, and it’s Okay to Take a Chance
Most of you reading this probably remember Dancing Bear last year, or the mess that it caused. For those of you who were not here, go ask an upper year for a debrief (you’ll make a friend and learn something new! Maybe, if you’re really nice, you’ll even make that upper year’s day by buying them something from the caf!), and for those of you who were, I do not need to go over the events of last year. Needless to say, the SRC had talked about Dancing Bear many times before the proposal came to us via email in the fall. We knew that we needed to fix the mistakes of the past, and we knew that we needed to ensure the event was one the entire community would want to go to for at least a little while. The funding meeting for Dancing Bear marked our most contentious and divisive meeting of the year. The event did not pass, in part because it was not quite ready, but mostly because there were so many of us that cared so deeply about the fate of the event coming from so many different perspectives that a united vision could not be reached in one meeting. There was hurt, hope, memories, and ‘peer pressure’ all pulling and pushing the proposal in different directions. When you are part of a team involved in decision making or leadership, sometimes you have to make decisions that you know your friends won’t like. Sometimes you will even have to say no to your friends. This is daunting. You will also have to put aside your own memories and feelings in order to serve the broader Quest community. This is what Dancing Bear was, at least for me, this year. We said no in the hopes that it would rise, even brighter, from the ashes, and not be tossed into the dark hole of Quest dreams long abandoned. We said no in the hopes that all of our friends, not just the ones who love Dancing Bear, would have a space at the event in the future. A Quest tutor once told me that you should try and have faith that people mean well and will come through. This is hard to trust in, especially in a community as active and aware as Quest. However, we took a chance, and I believe that the second Dancing Bear proposal represents immense progress towards what our community wants to see. I hope that you all take a chance with us, and support an event that your peers have put hours of work into. Never stop being critical, and never stop expecting better, but don’t settle for distant apathy and anger. Support your community and help it grow. In this case, students do mean well, and have come through.
Know Your Values
Recently, I have been having an existential crisis of sorts. Growing up I believed that my values were resolute. So, last year, when I was asked at the SRC elections debate what I stand for, the answer in my head was clear. I knew exactly what I stood for. I knew what I would fight for. Maybe not everyone knew, but I did, and everyone else would see through the progress my team and I were going to make. Up until very recently I had no doubt that I had held onto my values this year. I had fiercely represented students, alongside Vrindy Spencer, on the Presidential Search Committee. I had ensured that students played an integral role in Destination Quest. Elijah Cetas and I had presented to the Board on the importance of student representation. Additionally, I had worked all year to support our SRC Ministers through their diverse projects. However, in order to do all of this, I had placed myself within the system and proceeded to work in it. I had made an unconscious decision to be a bridge builder, not an activist. I was not rallying against a system, but trying to put out fires, connect community members, and make small steps towards our big long term goals. Had I smothered my values in order to be diplomatic? Had I abandoned small battles in order to win the longer war? When one of your teammates cries to you about the job, and the walls being put up by Quest that are keeping them out, and you do not know what to do, the answers to these questions become muddled. In fact I am still fighting my way through them as I write this. However, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that sometimes you will need to choose how to fight for what you believe in. The world needs bridge builders and activists. Maybe we can be both, but maybe we can’t be. Where you end up is something only you can reckon with. People may not believe that you care as much as they do, and they may think that your efforts are less valuable than theirs. At the end of the day, what is essential is that you know that you have not betrayed your values, and that you have done some amount of good. As I sit and wait for the Board of Governors email regarding the decisions made after their latest meeting, all I can do is hope that my compromises will have paid off, and that our SRC has been successful in all we have worked for this year.
Change does not come all at once. It comes step by step. Just because you have committed to affecting change in one community does not mean you must stay in that community until the fight is won. You can pass along the torch. You can move forward, continuing to fight for what you believe in wherever you go, learning from each new experience. Sometimes, it isn’t even about the fight, but about strengthening and supporting your team. There is value in community building. There is value in producing smiles. There is value in failing. There is value in giving people second chances. All of this will help you understand what you stand for. All of this will make you, and the people you are working with stronger, and better. The SRC is not perfect nor is Quest, but neither are we. Don’t be afraid to get involved, but don’t forget about who and what you care about, and don’t lose trust in yourself.