On Leading Conscious of Privilege

Leading a student group as an individual as conscious of their own privilege as they can be is a challenging, rewarding experience. As someone who has now spent a year leading a student organization, I’ve spent every day reflecting on my actions and thoughts, strategizing how to improve, and forgiving myself for being too self-critical.

As a President and Founder of a student group, I’ve come to recognize that leading a body of wonderful individuals is a dynamic portion of my life that is not capable of being “listicle-d.” However, as someone who values sharing narratives and inspiring others to grow, I’ve attempted to toss what little wisdom I’ve accumulated into an accessible list-bound format.

If you’re a prospective or active leader trying to be more conscious of your own privilege, please don’t take any of the things that I’ve attempted to grow upon as a personal attack. We are all living different lives, and it’s all we can to do recognize where we’re coming from in hopes of moving forward as benevolently and effectively as possible. 

 

1. It’s a privilege to lead.

Lead as someone with an experience in following. As someone who has experienced the leadership of others, recognize the problematic, imperfect, and necessary humanity within them and within yourself. It’s not your job to lead, as you are leading because ~someone else thought~ you had enough empathy, gumption, and experience to fill the role. You’re still a member of this group, do not forget that.

Step up when you have the opportunity to lead, and step down when it’s time to.

 

2. Pass the mic.

Don’t expect yourself to have all the answers. Don’t expect yourself to have all the questions. As Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer so eloquently voiced on Twitter, “You don't need to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic.” Know when it’s time to speak up and give yourself infinitely more opportunities to shut up and listen. Your ears are more useful to everyone than your words and actions alone. Don’t hog your own group, as it’s not even yours.

 

3. Inspire community, you should have no need to force it.

This point is relative to the type of student organization in question. If your organization is not focused on community-building, then doing so isn’t a factor to stress about as a leader.

If your organization is community-based, know that you can’t force people to develop meaningful relationships with each other. Your team won’t hate the group if they don’t have friend base within it, but they probably like it better if they do. To not force friendships, organize time for people to mingle, but don’t organize people to mingle.

You aren’t and can’t be your club’s “wingman,” but you can hope to inspire friendships through allocating time for team-building.

 

4. Be conscious of tokenization.

Whether for active or potential members, your privilege may make you feel pressured to lead the most inclusive and diverse community your university has ever seen. First, it’s impossible to be the “most inclusive.” Second, you can’t reach out to groups or individuals to join your club just because of their intersectional identities.

If you’re looking to grow your numbers, do so without bias. Reach out to ~all~ of campus or none of campus at all. Run your club, people who like what it is will join, and people who like it a lot will stay. Lead an organization holding and acting out good values, and your team will reflect them.

 

5. Support members in sharing their stories, but do not pressure them to.

Always give an option for team members to share their voice. If they want to use those opportunities to share an experience or story, support them as best you can. Don’t squash voices by not allowing members to share their narratives, and don’t stress them out by making them do so.

 

6. You can’t see yourself.

Always remember that your team is involved with an organization different than the one you are. They are seeing you through their lens, and you can’t expect to be able to see yourself through their eyes. Give opportunities for members and supporters to express advice, support, and criticism.

 

7. Don’t take criticism personally, but welcome it as a recommendation for personal growth that you have an opportunity to act out through leadership.

It’s okay to lead a group worthy of criticism, as it’s impossible to lead a perfect group. You will only hurt your group more if you take criticism personally by closing it off from advice and support by retaliating to constructive criticism. Take a deep breath, and see where they are coming from. Keep the mindset that your group is not an extension of yourself, but something that you have an influence over, and take criticism as an opportunity to help your group.

If you don’t agree with the advice given through criticism, let other people involved with the club know about it (with anonymity, of course) and see what they think. Respond to the criticism clearly, kindly, and promptly. Take another deep breath, and open up a dialogue if the other party is willing.

You can only hope to grow your organization through accepting all opinions with equal value. It’s hard not to foster a negative image of yourself and your leadership capabilities when you take criticism personally. Don’t hate yourself, you’re doing a great job.

 

8. Forgive yourself.

You’re doing the absolute best you can. In my opinion, fostering and enacting an ideology for leadership that is inclusive of self and group change is the best you can do for yourself and community. Your privilege is something that you can largely not change, but it is something that you can be conscious of and reflect upon in a lifetime of leadership.

In summary, be gentle with yourself. Listen constantly, speak and lead when you have to, let other lead as often as possible, and be tender with yourself and with other people’s opinion of your group.

You’re gonna do great.

 

Disclaimer:

I’m a nearly-20-year-old college student who has had the honor of being able to found and preside over the Her Campus chapter at my university. I’m a white, cisgender, straight woman. I’ve grown up in the same country (and city) as the location of the group I’m leading, where I speak the socially dominant language with the socially acceptable accent. I have received one of the most socially valuable formal educations in the country, due to immensely privileged social, economic, and political upbringing I had.

I can only speak for myself, and I’m not writing this piece in an attempt to squander every student leader for not following my “8 step method of leading conscious of privilege.” I’m just sharing some words that I’ve been thinking about, in hopes that they can get potential and active leaders to get thinking about how privilege has impacted their lives.