Suppose that Carrie and Isaac are in the same student organization. They meet through that organization. Isaac develops feelings for Carrie but she does not reciprocate. Isaac begins to harass Carrie. He repeatedly shows up inebriated at her doorstep. He threatens to harm himself if Carrie does not spend time with him. He exposes himself to her.
The student organization that they are both in catches wind of this. Isaac is not kicked out. Instead, the eboard decides to implement a probationary period. For half a semester, Isaac is not allowed to pursue any leadership roles within the organization and cannot drink at events hosted by the organization. The probationary period will end if the organization deems that he has “gotten better.” Eventually, they decide that he has.
He has not.
The following year, Taylor joins a new club. She is in desperate need of new friends. She meets Isaac through this club. It is at a club event where she first speaks to Isaac. She has heard some rumors about him but never the full story. Taylor is nosy and asks him for the details.
Isaac is charming as he twists the truth. Taylor believes in the good in people. Taylor believes him when he downplays the story. Taylor believes him when he tells her that he has taken accountability. Taylor believes him when he says he has changed.
He has not.
Isaac gets inebriated and blows up Taylor’s phone. He yells at Taylor and threatens to self-harm if she attempts to put up distance. He rapes her.
Taylor would not have met him if not for their shared student organization. There are no other circumstances in which their paths would have ever crossed. A small part of Taylor blames the student organization. Clubs should not provide a hunting ground for known predators, right? Why did they not kick him out? But then, again, that eboard was simply a group of 18 to 22-year-olds. How much can we expect from them? How much do student organizations owe to their members?
At the University, student organizations are entirely student-run. Aside from brief check-ins with our faculty advisors, decisions are made and acted upon by the student-controlled executive boards. We as student leaders should not have to make difficult decisions, right? We signed up to run a club’s Instagram or to coordinate a fundraiser, not deal with interpersonal conflict, right?
No. Regardless of the role we ran for, we did sign up for a leadership position. Even if it is student leadership, it is still real leadership with real leadership responsibilities. All leaders are expected to make decisions and deal with conflict. Our student-run executive boards bear the same responsibility as our employers. We are owed safety and security by our student organizations.
I know many of us think of how nice a position will look on our resume and do not consider anything beyond that. I know many of us don’t consider the weighty responsibility of becoming a student leader. I certainly did not. My freshman year, I joined an eboard to sell bubble tea and stickers. I did not anticipate having to deal with issues of racism and classism.
I did not think I, as an eboard member, would have to host difficult conversations with my friends about complaints about their behavior. I did not think I would have to deal with members getting harassed and determining the consequences for the harasser. Yet, I was in a position in which I had to do everything I did not anticipate.
It felt unfair. I was just nineteen. I felt as if I was in over my head. The decisions I was making had real, tangible consequences. I wish I had known the burdens of student leadership before I decided to jump in without a thought.
Student leadership is difficult. We should be aware of this before we decide to run. And once we do become student leaders, we need to take our jobs seriously. We need to protect those that we are leading. We have major responsibilities and we cannot cause harm.
I do not ever want my decision to be the reason someone gets hurt.