Losing leaders: The ”student governance geek” may be on the verge of extinction

It’s that piercing look of the crowd when you stand behind the podium, that moment when you all of a sudden forget the speech you had practiced one thousand times – that split second when you feel like your voice has sunk to the bottom of your gut and that you can’t utter a word. That is the feeling many of us experienced the first time we ever had to give a public speech. And that is the sensation I had never known until the spring of my freshman year here, at Williams. The occasion was the first Neighborhood Governance Board (NGB) elections, and I was running for Treasurer of Spencer.

As I now near my senior year at Williams, many of my friends know me as the College Council (CC), stu-fac committee, Spencer neighborhood-type-of-a-girl – a “student governance geek.” But the truth is – I had never actually done student governance before I came to Williams. In high school I never had the chance to run for an elected position. That is the main reason why when I came to Williams; I decided to experience a whole new range of activities and to fully submerge myself in campus life.

Williams is a student-driven campus. Everything here is thought of by students, carried on by students or done for students. Being a student leader here opens endless opportunities for you: the administration places great responsibility in your hands, expects you to run meetings, engage in passionate discussions and foster great ideas and gives you the funding to put on the events you feel strongly about. However, it is not all “glamour and pink” to be a student leader. As you take on responsibilities, you also have to carry a heavy load of commitments. Organizing events is a rewarding experience due to the variety of management skills that you learn through the process. At the same time, though, it is an exhausting and often frustrating route in which you often get blamed and criticized for the quality of campus life.

But what the majority of this campus dismisses about student leadership is the exceptionally small number of people who are actually involved in it. It is maybe the same 20 students who are on CC, on the governance boards and on the e-boards for various other organizations. The load of “event planning” and organizing the social scene on campus is on the shoulders of only a few. In between ACE and the neighborhoods, parties on campus are the responsibility of only a dozen of us “student governance geeks.” What is even scarier is that over the years this number has been diminishing quickly.

I mentioned I had to give a speech my freshman year to run for the Spencer NGB. That is because those first elections were structured to be public events and were highly contested in relative Williams terms (about 2-3 people ran for each position). Last year, some positions on the NGBs were contested, though most were not. And in the most recent elections, some governance boards, such as Currier, had absolutely no one run for certain positions, after which the new officers were simply appointed by the current NGBs. Where has the interest in student leadership on this campus gone?

I guess what baffles me the most is that I know that at least 90 percent of Williams students had to hold some kind of a leadership position in high school in order to get into this college. So, at least 1800 of us are capable of being leaders and have initiative buried somewhere inside of us. Most of all, I am sure that all of the student body has incredible ideas they wish to see happening on this campus. Whether it is your favorite comedian, band, writer or just party idea – there is some event you would die to attend before leaving this place.

So, again, why is no one willing to step up and take some action? Why are only 20 students the ones in charge of social planning? Many Williams students act as if everything has to be done for them, rather than by them. This is a student-run campus after all, and no one else can and should organize events but us. But it seems that due to the lack of interest on the part of the student body, there are fewer and fewer people stepping up as leaders and carrying heavier burdens. What would Homecoming or Spring Fling be without tent parties? What would this campus’s social scene turn into if there weren’t any concerts?

It seems, however, that the “student governance geek”-type is going extinct on our campus, and as this rare species disappears so too might the social scene. Williams is already suffering from being quite remote and small. And without creativity, weekends might just turn into monotonous, boring cycles. This is your college experience, so step it up and get involved. Challenge yourself beyond your limits and become a student leader in at least one capacity. Take charge of your Williams experience.

Toni Kraeva ’09 is a math and economics major from Plovdiv, Bulgaria.