What do student leaders do?

There are a diverse set of programs that provide a number of services to students, but the student leaders who are a part of these programs should still reflect on their impact (photo by Hannah Kreiden).
There are a diverse set of programs that provide a number of services to students, but the student leaders who are a part of these programs should still reflect on their impact (photo by Hannah Kreiden).

Letter from the Editor

Last week, Fourth Estate published an article entitled “Five things you need to know about student leaders.” Before we jump into the complaints that many of our readers raised in the article’s comments, let me first explain the original intent of the article.

Our original goal was to publish a concise “Buzzfeed style” article that highlighted the roles that Patriot Leaders, Resident Advisors and Peer Advisors play on campus. To do that, we were looking for specific parts of each program to highlight. I will admit that the subjects we decided to focus on were not as well planned out as they could have been, and at the end of the day, I take responsibility for that.

We are student editors. We make mistakes. We take note. Then we keep publishing.

Within a couple days of the article being posted, a number of students commented on the story expressing their disappointment. There were a number of concerns raised, from the omission of how hard student leaders work to the articles emphasis on how much RAs are compensated. For example, I agree that the article should have clarified that RAs don’t simply receive “free housing.” The cost of housing is part of the RA’s compensation in return for the services they provide students, and that clarification has been added to the article.

Before I respond to those comments, I’d like to thank the readers for taking the time to comment on the story. We always welcome feedback and comments, and it’s encouraging to know that students care about the content that is published in their school’s newspaper.

One comment I think did a fairly good job of summing up the main sentiments expressed:

“I think this article is extremely exclusive and quite inaccurate at some points. There are plenty of student leaders in the Office of Student Involvement, within communities in Housing (such as in Living Learning Communities), Ambassadors (that don’t get paid), Student Government, Class Councils, Patriot Activities Council, RSO Leadership Team, The Leadership Consultants in the LEAD Office, and much much more. All of these positions give student the opportunity to learn about Mason, not just the Patriot Leader position. There is a lot less of a hierarchy that meets the eye, and we are taught as student leaders that each different position is equally as important, vital, and impactful to the Mason experience for ourselves and the rest of the student body. As a student leader, this directly contradicts many of the principles I am taught on a daily basis, and I disagree with this wholeheartedly.”

First, it is not our role as a news outlet to highlight the principles that student leaders are taught. I agree that a more thorough story about the role that leaders play on campus may include those principles, but it isn’t our job to be their cheerleaders.

Our story does not provide the all-encompassing feature of student leaders that a lot of our commenters are looking for, and that was never the intent. Even a long feature about leaders at Mason could not encompass the entirety of what student leaders do, and that’s exactly what many student leaders need to realize.

Just like Mason students as a whole, leaders are very diverse in their capabilities. There are RAs that have completely changed a freshman’s life, and there are RAs who have only interacted with their residents a handful of times. Sometimes those are the same people. There are leaders who go above in beyond the call of duty, and have made amazing contributions to future generations of Mason students. There are also leaders who have gotten involved for reasons that may be less than noble, whether that’s for power, money or something else. There isn’t an organization on this campus that has not had both of these types of leaders coming to their doorstep.

It would be easy to describe your organization by goals it creates for itself. The Resident Advisor program was created as a way to allow students to create a friendly, enriching and safe home environment for other students. To the extent that this is accomplished varies drastically from RA to RA. The same could be said about my position, where the focus and direction of the school’s newspaper varies from editor to editor.

As leaders, I don’t think we have very many honest conversations about our role at Mason. We like to point to our jobs descriptions and immediately jump to the conclusion that those goals are being fulfilled when many students would say otherwise. We’re often locked into our own groups, whether that’s student government, peer advisors or the student news outlet, without stepping back and having an honest discussion about our ability to change things. 

For example, Fourth Estate was created with the overarching mission to inform the Mason community. How effective have we been? It’s hard to say. I still think the average student doesn’t have the slightest clue about what’s happening with the strategic planning process, an enormous project that will determine the direction of the university over the next 10 years. If Fourth Estate reports about a story, and nobody reads it, did we really do our job?

I hope that this pushes more leaders to start that conversation, both within their respective organizations and with the Mason community at large.

If you would like to write a reflection as a student leader, we welcome your voice! Send your thoughts to gmufourthestate@gmail.com.

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