During the college application process, I’d heard that I needed to demonstrate leadership to woo my top choice colleges. I surely needed to write my essays on a new non-profit I founded for charity, about my quest to cure my relative’s terminal cancer, about my first place gold medal from the global chess championship. With this in mind, I felt pretty wimpy with my one example of leadership experience on the “Activities” section of my Common App… but, of course, it all worked out.
What I didn’t understand then was that sometimes you don’t have to be absolutely amazing to get into college–even a prestigious one. You don’t have to have your own non-profit, cure cancer, or win some global competition. You just have to show potential, an interest, the willingness to learn to be a leader, and, of course, good character. Because that’s what college is for: to teach you to become a leader. Whether that be a renowned academic, the next president, or whatever “leadership” means to you, college is ultimately where you’re nurtured into a more well-rounded, wholesome human being. Yet, to be honest, this nurturing rarely takes place in a classroom. For some college students, including myself, part of this process of out-of-class learning has been becoming more aware and active in the social justice/activism happening on campuses across the nation.
Last week, I wrote an article on one of the largest activism projects happening on my campus: the admission of trans* women into women’s colleges. This is a big debate at other women’s colleges (Smith, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, etc., to name a few) as well, and has even gotten national attention from The New York Times because it’s such a huge deal. Through being involved with the activism going on around my campus surrounding this issue and others, I have learned so much I couldn’t learn in my classes.
Sure, my classes my first year were primarily about social constructs and questioning the norm, which is the foundation of knowledge I’d imagine every activist needs, but being involved with other passionate students in an effort to make our campus a better place forced me to apply that knowledge in a different context.
First, I learned a lot about my identity and who I am, but I also learned about my leadership style. I found that leadership doesn’t always mean you have to be the face of the mission, the distinct leader of the group, the one who calls all the shots. For me, I realized that I was just as much a vital part of the group although I’m introverted and I really don’t enjoy interacting with a large audience. Basically, even from the background, what I contribute is just as important to the group–in and out of the social activism sphere. And this, I think, was probably the most important lesson I learned during my first year of college.
This is why I encourage everyone to at least check out the “activism scene” at their respective campus. It’s not a fad, so please, please, pleasepleaseplease care about what you’re doing… It’s serious. But it’s just another chance to find what you love and to nurture it. It’s another venue to learn outside of class and to develop a different meaning of leadership rather than the assumed meaning. Interested? Check it out! Here are some cool things happening (recently) at campuses across the nation:
- I, Too, Am NYU / I, Too, Am Harvard, and more “I, Too…” projects
- Scripps Coalition Against More
- NU Class Confessions / UChicago Class Confessions
- Wesleyan’s fight for their African American Studies dept.
What’s your experience with activism at college? Have any other recent projects to add to this list? Comment below!