What are we teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College besides academic subjects? Many of our students are young and learning about life, so what they learn outside of the classroom is at least as important as what they learn inside. When students get involved in something that’s meaningful to them, they learn that they want to and can make a difference to their community and society at large. This helps transform students into leaders.
I believe deeply in student leadership, and take their policy issues and agendas very seriously. It is such a pleasure to see students evolve into leaders as their natural enthusiasm evolves. Part of their learning here at the JC is to become more practical as they channel their passion into solutions to serious societal problems.
My own path toward leadership started by being the youngest child. I saw my older brothers’, and especially my sister’s leadership style, which was collaborative. As a college student, I joined a Board of Directors for a non-profit organization and that helped develop my leadership skills. Over the years, there were many women who mentored me in collaborative leadership and today, I still strongly value collaboration.
For the most part, we have an exceptional group of student leaders this year. They are mature, compassionate, and yes, collaborative leaders. Our own leaders, like Robert Ethington, Dean of Student Affairs, have helped them understand that by partnering with the SRJC administration, they can get closer to their goals. They don’t need to see the administration as an adversary.
Recently, when some student leaders showed a lack of good judgment, other student leaders followed established procedures alongside SRJC administrators to address the situation. This was part of the learning process, for all of the students concerned. Part of being young is learning lessons, sometimes the hard way, and we don’t give up on people just because they make a mistake, even if it’s serious.
Our student leaders today care passionately about many causes, and they are strong activists. They support each other’s causes and that leads to the highest collective impact. One example is the Feminists United Club, which has become very strong through the planning and coordination of events like “Take Back the Night.” Our Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society has taken on the issue of food insecurity. Their establishment of the college’s first Free Food Bank has supported the success of our students by increasing their access to healthy food.
It’s also been powerful to watch emerging Latino student leaders. SRJC is proud to be a Hispanic Serving Institution. With the Title V grant, the Dream Center, and talented student advisors like Rafael Vasquez and many others, the college is assisting and educating students on the many new programs and resources to support their success.
One example is Omar Paz, Jr. In 2013-14, he was elected President of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, supporting the interests of over 2 million students. In 2014-15, he became Student Trustee for SRJC. When he began his term as Trustee, he was casual when he attended board meetings. Even then, I appreciated his calm, persistent approach. Over his term, he began to compose himself more like the mature young leader he is today. Being a Student Trustee instilled self-confidence in him and helped him develop his understanding of the political process. Omar has now transferred to UC Santa Cruz, where he has a combined major in Latin American & Latina/o Studies and Sociology. I’m very proud of his accomplishments.
It’s not only Latino students who are emerging as leaders. I feel strongly that we need to continue diversifying student leadership to reflect the diversity of our college community. Dean Tahir has mentored African-American students like Mark Goitom, another former Student Trustee (2011-12), and Elias Hinit. The Black Student Union (BSU) has become one of our most active student clubs and has transformed the culture with its captivating forums, lectures and support of our student athletes.
Many students who attend Santa Rosa Junior College don’t arrive expecting to be leaders. Yet when they become involved in a club or activity, they may see a new role, feel a new excitement for their future. And they find out that engagement is a form of leadership in and of itself.
I’m proud of our student leaders. My hope is that we are inspiring an entire generation of leaders by encouraging students to get out of their comfort zones, learning outside the classroom as well as in it. Education is power, and that power can take them to places far beyond their dreams.