Small Group, Big Web

From fresh to seasoned student leadership, it’s clear plenty of people are hyper involved- but is it a problem?

By Tessa Paige ‘18

If you’re a productivity addict in college, you could be hyper-involved.

How many student leaders that you know hold 2, 3, 4 major positions in addition to class and work?

What happens when a small portion of the student body is taking up all the leadership positions?

I should know- I’m one of them. And through my positions I see plenty of others in the same situation.

There are so many fascinating and exciting opportunities- it feels good to take on bigger things, better things, and more things.

If someone is really good at or motivated to run a club- they’re probably running three. If they’ve had a big idea, they’ve gone bigger. And it’s not just me who gets burnt out from it all- watching yourself say “yes” and then going home to cry in bed because there’s three weeks left in the semester and golly, how are you going to orchestrate four events, interview fifteen people, write a research paper and least of all the rest of your classwork while fulfilling two jobs and trying to be a person?

It’s often impossible to juggle everything, and even if you try to manage your time well, give yourself breaks, say no to things, you end up with more on your plate than you can handle. A side effect, unfortunately, is that no matter how hard you try, you’re not putting your best energy into your positions, you’re just trying to get it all complete. From clubs with lukewarm meetings to organizations created for change with lukewarm effect, the love and drive may be present but simply without the energy to go above and beyond to create honest community.

Recently I’ve begun to notice that student-run initiatives to create community are chock-full of people who are hyper-involved. And we always have lots of trouble actually creating that community and find ourselves with poorly attended events. We’ve found ourselves a community in the coordination- but where are the people we are trying to serve?

I have two theories. First, student leadership at my institution, at least, has become ingrown and no longer represents the needs of the community at large- it’s always similar thoughts, similar needs of hyper-involved students represented.

Secondly, in my years I suspect the trend to recruit new student leadership is declining. Why are so many student leaders over involved in a variety of things, while others do nothing? It can’t be merely that the former are more qualified, or that the latter are wholeheartedly disinterested. I theorize that non-involved students are turned off when they see the constant burnout of others who are leading- they may not see the potential importance or impact of positions they see done in a lukewarm way. They see hyper-involved students like living tornados and are scared away by self-preservation instincts.

The truth is that there has to be a middle balance- there has to be a sweet spot where one can balance their life so that they are energized and effective in all they do. What can we do? My increasingly theoretical advice is encouraging hyper-involved students more strongly to take on less. How will everything still get done? Maybe if leadership culture can relax and prove that taking on a role can be manageable, fun, and impactful, more prospective leaders will be drawn in. Perhaps those recruiting leadership need to more seriously scrutinize a student’s potential for hyper-involvement as a detriment to the position they’re attempting to fill. The latter is supported by Kyle Flowers’ 2016 thesis study on the needs and motivations of students who spend 20–30 hours a week in campus involvement.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Ruminations on Leadership’s story.