Despite The Bad Press, Don’t Paint All Student Leaders With The Same Brush

Recent events that have happened on post-secondary campuses are entirely unacceptable and need the attention and discussion they have rightfully gained. However, for every student leader who does something attracting negative attention, there are countless others doing incredible things on our post-secondary campuses, incredible things in their own right as well as a lot of hard work to educate people about and discourage the events that we have become all too familiar with.

This is my third year as a resident assistant, and each year I go through approximately 8 full days of training to help me do my job. Some of the topics we cover include mental health, SafeTALK (suicide alertness), gender diversity and LGBTQ issues, and sexual assault disclosure support. This training is not left behind in August. We work hard everyday to educate our students, support those who need it, and to promote a community, a campus, and a world that is safer and more inclusive for all. 

I’ve dealt with some pretty heavy stuff. Stuff that even if I was allowed to talk about it, I’d rather not. Many people question why I do my job, and how I deal with some of the things that come up. I do it because I know I make a difference, and I know I’ve kept people safe, maybe even saved lives. I do it because of the people who have influenced my life in the past and so I can hopefully do the same for those who follow behind me. 

The student leaders you sometimes hear about in the media wear shirts saying “Fuck Safe Space”. The student leaders you don’t often hear about wear their staff/organization shirts with pride (and to be honest they might be a little bit smelly because sometimes laundry takes low priority in our busy schedules!). The student leaders you sometimes hear about in the media write articles about how to “date” (aka sexually harass) your TA. The student leaders you don’t often hear about are busy writing notes of encouragement to their students during midterm season, maybe with some candy attached that they paid for with their own money. The student leaders you sometimes hear about in the media are using cheers promoting rape culture. The student leaders you don’t often hear about are cheering on their student who is a varsity athlete at a game, or providing a supportive listening ear to a student who is homesick. 

These events are unfortunate, and each time they happen I am utterly shocked that people think such actions are still acceptable in this day and age. As a student leader myself I am also embarrassed, particularly when they happen at the school I am extremely proud to be a student of. But remember, the ones who receive the most attention are not the norm. Next time you see a student leader, ask them about they work they do; they will probably be eager to share, because what they do really is incredible. Sit down for a bite to eat with them because they probably forgot to schedule that in, or better yet, buy them a coffee. (yes, definitely buy them a coffee, and none of this decaf crap please) And remember to say thank you, because they make our post-secondary institutions wonderful places and I am confident that our work will trickle beyond the ivory towers to make our world a better place.