Looking back on leadership

We can be amazingly influential and inspiring if we constantly ask ourselves why we aren’t being more effective as individuals. It’s easy to point to other people and circumstances that limit us from achieving our goals, but at the end of the day we can only control ourselves. Throughout my time at Williams, I have tried to start with that, and only after I’ve assessed my abilities and actions do I start to think about what else needs to change. So keeping with my style, here you go: a student leadership retrospective.

Last spring, Kim Dacres and I ran for College Council (CC) Co-Presidents on a platform of improving student leadership, promoting sustainability, addressing diversity and improving funding for club sports. I was elected, but I didn’t have a good sense of what that role really entailed. Around the same time we lost my good friend, Katie Craig. The campus came together in a beautiful moment to celebrate her life. Even in this tragic moment, I saw how the community could passionately coalesce around something that was meaningful and important.

That spring we also dealt with bomb-makers and Hitler posters. I helped throw a junior class formal. I knew I needed to slow down, but I didn’t take care of myself and got very burned out from grief, leadership and the connections between the two. I took a lot of the summer off for vacation and reflection. It had been so long since I had time to read, write and let my mind really wander over everything.

With renewed energy from the summer, I came into this fall ready to take on the world. Some of this adrenaline went into promoting campus leadership in accordance with my vision for CC. A lot of my efforts, however, went into Thursday Night Group (TNG), which grew to over 50 people at almost every meeting this fall. I’ve always seen my leadership roles in CC and TNG as very similar, since TNG is so focused on empowering new leaders. Though TNG’s main thrust is toward building a just and sustainable future, I also hoped that both it and CC would exert a positive, strengthening influence on other campus groups. Many people say that Williams isn’t an activist campus. I know that we can change that.

This fall saw a lot of struggle with the administration. The College consulted almost no students in designing renovation plans for Goodrich Hall, and then had a virtually non-existent decision making process afterwards. I still don’t know how to really deal with the alcohol and community respect problems that we experienced in the fall, even though there has been a lot of pressure from many parties to find a solution. Working with a new dean, many stakeholders and convoluted issues proved to be difficult circumstances in which I could be effective.

This winter I started getting burned out on CC. Climate change work was really taking off, and I didn’t have the energy to deal with internal workings of student government. I had planned on running Focus the Nation, organizing elections and then ending my commitment to all-campus leadership. All of that changed when Kim and I called an all-campus forum to address the racist incident in Willy E.

There was no agenda that first night – we only wanted to hear what was on students’ minds and to see if people wanted to do something. We were very pleasantly surprised and excited when it became clear that the campus was ready for action and leaders who normally don’t work together could quickly do something big. All of a sudden, Kim and I were back in major leadership roles. Though it was an exhausting week and a half, it was also exciting because of how significant the events were. Just the thought that we were contributing to something in a truly meaningful way kept me focused on trying to be the best leader and most supportive follower I could be.

I’m very satisfied with my year of service to the school. My advice to student leaders of the present and future: be the glue to which ideas and lessons can stick. There are so many people here to advise you and give invaluable feedback. But it’s only when we see leadership as a learning process do we prioritize both looking for and listening to constructive criticism. You’ve got nothing to lose by asking your friends, your professors, college staff or really anyone: “How do you think I can do what I do better?” If we are sincere and motivated, together, we (meaning you) can figure out how to make things happen.

When Kim and I listed leadership as our first priority we had in mind revitalizing the culture of activism on this campus. It takes a lot to change a culture, but once that change is started it can move quickly. We as students have the ability to do amazing things as long as we stay positive, push to learn about ourselves and take on challenges that demand the best from us.

Morgan Goodwin ’08 is a Chinese major from Keene, N.Y.

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