During the first few weeks of my freshman year at Emerson College, I was eager to get involved with a social justice and environmental awareness student-run organization. I knew I had a strong passion for community change, volunteerism, and social justice education but I was also aware of how much more I needed to learn. While furthering my passions through my course load, I wanted to simultaneously enrich my interests outside of the classroom as well. Aside from applying for internships and signing up to volunteer at local nonprofit organizations, I started searching through Emerson’s lengthy list of extra-curricular organizations. I was recommended to check out Emerson Peace and Social Justice and to this day, it is a decision that changed my life.
I understand that that may sound drastic, but it couldn’t be more true. At the first meeting I attended there were only three people aside from myself. I couldn’t believe that out of the entirety of our progressively-minded, socially conscious, urban school, only four people were interested in promoting and getting involved with social justice, community service, and environmental change. I knew there were other students out there who wanted to further their passion for public service but I didn’t know how to get them to our weekly meetings. And once we got more Emersonians to our meetings, how do we ensure that their membership will be sustainable? How do we communicate to them that our meetings are not just an hour of allotted time to sit around and talk about the problems that plague our society but that our meetings are for creating and implementing plans of action? Emerson Peace and Social Justice members weren’t just idea-generators, they were doers and movers and shakers. And I wanted the school to know this, do something about it, and join us in our fight to create a more equal, fair, and just society.
So after taking the reigns on some projects within the organization and vocalizing how passionate I was about social justice issues, activism, and taking action to create a more equitable society, I was asked to take on a more defined leadership role for the following year. Although my mind immediately wracked through all of the doubts, possible mishaps, and errors that could happen if I served as President in only my second year of college, I excitedly agreed to take on the opportunity.
I deeply cared about this student organization. It wasn’t just a student-lead club that sat around and talked about how the world could be a better place. It wasn’t just an hour of my week I spent convening with other student activists and advocates. Being involved with this college organization was an empowering outlet for me to push my passions further, believe in myself and my abilities as a young leader and activist, and collaborate with others who care about the world too. Not only that, but Emerson Peace and Social Justice signified to me that this kind of work was what I needed to do with my life. As a freshman in college I knew my trajectory and felt confident in where my life was headed. And I owe a lot of those important realizations about my future and desired career path to Emerson Peace and Social Justice.
Becoming President of a social justice focused student organization on campus taught me how to unite people through our shared humanness despite the differences we may hold. I learned how to break down barriers and forces of judgement among students so that we can collectively work towards a more just, equitable, unprejudiced world. As a leader, I learned how to facilitate the learning and passions of others without directly leading. Leadership is not just a person standing in front of a room full of people giving instructions and speaking at others. Leadership is about facilitating a process where people empowered and motivated to learn, contribute, and lead too. It’s a multi-way street not just one-way.
Our organization grew from four people to (at our highest steady membership count) 35 students. We became more visible on campus and the student body knew our name and what we stood for. Students at Emerson were hearing and talking more about social justice issues and activist efforts and we were largely responsible for those pivotal and influential discussions. Even if we weren’t galvanizing the whole student body, we were planting promising seeds that overtime, had strong potential to grow into something more. I observed incoming freshman rise as passionate movers and shakers and heard them say how a lot of their student leadership success was related to being involved with Emerson Peace and Social Justice. As President, I tried my best and was adamant about student choice and agency. Our members crafted the trajectory of the organization and I just managed and oversaw those efforts. Students could be their authentic selves in our organization and take charge of their passions.
Now that it has been a year since I’ve been out of college, I’ve been able to reflect on how instrumental being President of Emerson Peace and Social Justice was in my life today. A lot of the leadership traits and strategies I valued and held as President have made its way into my leadership as a public high school teacher. My high school students have agency in the classroom, make projects their own, vocalize their opinions to help improve the class, and have opportunities to make real-world and personal connections to the content I teach. I value the one-on-one conversations I’ve had with my high schoolers about finding their passion, running with it, and ensuring that the job and education they pursue in the future reflect their true self and makes them happy. I don’t hide who I am to my students. They know how passionate I am about supporting social justice, protecting human rights, sparking community change, and helping others find their call to action to make this world a better place. I wear my passions on my sleeve (as well as my heart since they are both deeply connected) and my students have told me that they appreciate that. They learn from my personal passions and in turn, maybe I can help them unearth their own.
None of that would have been possible without getting involved with and leading Emerson Peace and Social Justice. Not only did I learn so much about myself through that campus leadership role, but I learned so much about others too. Alone I can only do so much, but together we can change the world – my Emerson Peace and Social Justice members, high school students, and I.