Following Their Lead: Learning from the Changemakers

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Christina Ferrari

July 26, 2018

I work with graduate students, and each of them bring a rich and fascinating story of how their lives brought them to this Ivy-league research institution with a desire to change the world. At the core of the field of public health is the creation of systemic social change: a world where everyone can live full lives because there are no inequities across the social determinants of health, food access and environmental justice matter, reproductive health and rights are protected, and policymakers act fair and with concern for the most marginalized. Our students are the ones operating from the Seven C’s of the Social Change Model of Leadership Development whether they know it or not. They are servant leaders, socially responsible, values-based, and woke activists.

The mission our students carry around (literally on tote bags given to them Day 1 of Orientation Week) is “Health is a Human Right” and our programs, activities, discussions, and work centers around this statement. Working with students who possess a deep affinity for helping their fellow humans is incredibly motivating and humbling.

As a leadership educator, I can teach the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, facilitate teambuilders in my sleep, and quote leadership theorists in casual conversations but what do I really know about being a leader or creating social change compared to the Peace Corps volunteers, community organizers, and non-profit board members that make up the students I serve?

I know deep down that little paragraph above is the imposter syndrome speaking. My students have shared time and time again how much they appreciate the opportunities for engagement, community, and learning that my office creates and I know I bring value to this community. But, something I did not expect when I stepped into this position a year ago was just how much they would be teaching me.

I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct the best practices of leadership education in a way that my students will connect with and embrace. I enjoy being challenged by their questions to dig deeper and offer more robust and substantive offerings. As the field of student affairs and student leadership development grows and expands, as we see students like the ones I work with every day, I wonder how our practice will evolve. How will we learn, listen, and grow with the changemakers we teach?

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