How do I go about Creating a Shift in the Culture of the Recruitment of Student Leaders?

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Rachel Kohman

August 8, 2018

I love working with the upperclassmen student leaders who facilitate the first year experience programs at my institution. They are always an amazing group of students who care deeply for others, inspire collective excitement for the incoming students, and strive to make the new students experience positive in every way. Even better, I don’t have to worry about recruiting and retaining these student leaders, the program has a long standing success record and leaders recruit each other from one year to the next typically within their own major, fraternity, sorority, or student organization. However while this approach to recruiting is working well from a numbers standpoint I’ve notice a flaw with this method. Because the leaders are recruiting from their known circle of acquaintances the population of student leaders I work with are largely homogenous.

This reality is one I’m not comfortable just continuing with, new student programs need to have a diverse representation of ethnicity, culture, socio economic, gender, and educational backgrounds in order for all new students to see themselves in the student leaders. So the question remains, how do I go about creating a shift in the culture of the recruitment of student leaders?

I’ll be honest, this question had me at a loss and I wasn’t sure how to begin, after all it’s not like my recruitment of student leaders was broken. Luckily I have been attending trainings by the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) and there were some ideas which I believe will assist with adjusting the recruitment approach. KLC has four leadership competencies and the concepts that really resonate with this present situation are found in “Energize Others”.

Work across factions- getting outside the normal routine and connect with other departments and groups on campus. Finding advisors of organizations or leaders in student organizations is a great first step to making authentic connections across campus. Finding ways to engage people outside my own regular circle is also a great way to model this change in behavior for the student leaders.

Start where they are- this is both from a verbal point of reference as far as not using terms or vocabulary that distances the potential student leaders, as well as a physical space in going to where these potential student leaders may be located on campus. Being able to meet potential student leaders where they are, helps them to feel like they can be in these leadership positions.

Inspire a collective purpose- It’s not enough to simply talk about the mission and outcomes of the first year student programs, because that will likely fall on deaf ears. Instead finding out what these various potential student leaders are passionate about and finding ways their passions can play out in these student leadership roles is imperative to having student leaders who are feeling fulfilled by this involvement opportunity.

Create a trustworthy process- Recruitment can’t just be about checking off the boxes of identities I think should be represented. Rather it’s creating authentic relationships based in intentional conversations where students want to be in this role for their own motivation, not because they feel like they have to be to fill a quota.

The ways that recruitment of student leaders plays out on each campus will look vastly different depending on what the campus culture and needs are. However, taking steps to actively engage others rather than going with what’s be done before will hopefully help create more diverse representation on any team. At the end of the day I believe it’s better to keep striving to create better strategies, even if something doesn’t seem broken, because who knows how much greater of an impact you might have if you just keep stretching.

Kansas Leadership Center

O'Malley, E., & Cebula, A. (2015). Your leadership edge; Lead anytime, anywhere. Wichita, KS: KLC Press.

Rachel Kohman is the Senior Director of the Center for Student Involvement and the Region 4-West representative for the SLPKC.

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