Student leadership: illusion of influence, real stress

October 16, 2003

So I hear you want to be a leader. At some point, you or someone you know will look at the William Pitt Union and say, “I wonder what students actually do on the fifth and sixth floors?” If you choose to find out, then you find that is where student leaders – that wonderfully degenerate breed – exist.

Yes, I, at one point at Pitt, was a student leader. Am I bitter about it? No. Not really. You actually learn a tremendous amount of useless things that help you along the way in life. I am not sure which way that is, but adults keep saying that it will.

Do not let me deter you from becoming one, though, because there are all types of leaders. You can be a Greek, an organization leader or one of the all-powerless Student Government Board members.

What does being a leader mean? Most think it has grandiose effects on your everyday life. Men will love you, and women will want to be you. You do get invited to an event at the Chancellor’s house, about the most bourgeois event you can attend, and an affair I skipped to do homework and because I would rather eat year-old ramen than smile at the man.

Next off: I bet you think you are going to have tons of power. When I think “power,” I think of Magneto or Dr. Claw. None of these things ever happened – no kewl chair or ability to make others prostrate before you.

SGB has the trivial power to pass resolutions. Now, these are absolutely ridiculous and are only used a personal soapbox for members to get onto the front page of the paper. But the screaming, crying and eye rolling that come with each proposal are phenomenal. Not much power lies in a resolution.

SGB is also in charge of almost all your student activity fee money. But SGB members usually bow quickly to the allocations committee and rarely ask many questions.

Oh, and most importantly, they can get you office supplies. Since allocation is passed onto a committee, SGB’s biggest role is to dole out tape and pens to any group that needs them.

No decadent parties; no real power; fame limited to Forbes Avenue. For all of the stress leaders go through, what do they actually get?

The reality is that many of them are merely fame-seekers, because they think this will bolster some imagined political career outside of Pittsburgh. Now, when I vote for someone, I rarely check their resume to see if they have been in charge of a student group, and if that is your criterion, you should be punished.

There are many people who want to get involved. But, when they do, they quickly become hardened and bitter by all of what I described. That is because many see the reality that students have no power on campus. Administrators are paid very well to maintain peace on campus and to make sure that the status quo is maintained.

Students use all their energy to get to a place where they think they can do something of great regard. And then they realize their hands are tied by policies controlled not by them, but by the people mandating the way students in a university should maintain themselves.

Before you know it, your time in office is up. You just learned how the internal system works, but you are too tired to tell anyone, and you finally need to do schoolwork so you can graduate.

So the cycle must begin again – usually without any transition of experience, guidance or written materials that will allow the next group of leaders to complete or follow up their predecessors’ projects.

If all seems hopeless, please do not fret. I will tell you there is plenty of good to do on this campus. There are lots of groups not dedicated to titles and business meetings, but where the goal is nothing more than to work everyday to fulfill their mission.

I suggest all of you become student leaders. But don’t stress and freak out about any of it. There is a real world outside of the Union. What we can all do is try to figure out a way to end the delusion of current student empowerment and actually reach up and take the reins of this university. We are the students, and we should be in charge.

Can you name 10 student leaders by name and office title? I doubt it – nor does anyone care.
Posted on 10.16.2003 at 9:55 PM


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