We desire change, much in the way we desire to workout. As in, it would be great to have happen, but gosh that’s kinda hard work.
While the concept of ‘change’ at a university is debatable in nature (is change always good?), the truth of the matter is many of us see places where change appears appropriate. I know for myself and many others that value social justice, we believe in advocating for systematic change in order to create equity – such as gender-neutral bathrooms, multicultural centers, and victim advocate support built within our policies and budgets.
Seeing this change brings out our inner ego. We have a vision, after all. And it doesn’t much look like folks are creating change, are there? Well…clearly that’s because they need me!
Yup, that’s your inner Iron Man rearing his perfectly chiseled jaw and inflating your ego.
So you fly into the work, following your vision. You draw out plans. Create arguments to be presented. Identify budget lines. Type up a powerpoint – because people love powerpoints, amirite?
You present your case with that Iron Man confidence and…it doesn’t take.
The reasons are boundless and you’re not sure why, but perhaps it’s because you have limited appeal to the decision makers? Maybe they saw it as a personal project and not something that the campus community wanted or needed? They could just have other things on their mind and that project doesn’t appear as a priority. Plus, it’s easier to say no rather than yes – saying yes means you actually have to put a program in place, which takes time, money, and energy.
But don’t worry. I’ve got an offer for you.
Do you want change?
Then you have to take the time to establish and build relationships. You’re not Iron Man, you’re an Avenger. You cannot make change happen alone.
Change Agent Tip #1: Relationship Building
Coming from a community organizing background, it was drilled into me that relationship building was the key method to building alliances to advocate for change. We’re stronger together than we are apart (unless you are Beyoncé, and ain’t none of you as bad as Queen Bey).
A trick of the trade is to identify a person’s self-interest (i.e., something that motivates them in some manner) and connect their self-interest to your own.
For example, let’s say I think it is poor judgment for my university’s admissions office to cut the one program that enlisted underrepresented students to recruit prospective students from that same background. This is a large task to remedy, is it not? But if I have the relationships with folks on campus and am aware of their self-interests, I can advocate for change.
With some folks, I know I would connect to them on class issues, first-generation student issues, ability issues, or race issues, for example. These are the issues that concern them and I would be able to tie their interest into why we need to advocate together for this student recruitment program to stay on campus. Other folks, I would appeal to their interest in maintaining or elevating the university’s elite status because we all know that notes are taken by the public, media, and rankings groups on the diversity of the student population. Enrollment management may hear data and researched best practices for recruiting underrepresented student populations – and so on.
However, I cannot do that if I don’t have the relationships necessary to know who folks are, understand their self-interests, and get them to take my advocacy seriously. There must be trust built and a sincerity of relationship building.
Change Agent Tip #2: Grassroots Organizing
You know what’s not cool? Pyramid schemes.
But what is cool is the concept of starting with one person, linking to another, they link to more, and soon we have a large collective group – otherwise known as grassroots organizing.
You are just one person. Can you really build and maintain relationships with folks all across campus? Nope.
In community organizing, we work off the ‘leader’ mentality. “Leader”, in this world, is defined as someone with many relationships. So if I work in Student Involvement, I would try to build a relationship with someone in Residence Life. Now, I probably can’t get to know all the folks in Res Life – but my new friend can. And if she builds relationships within her office, then when I desire to advocate for change (gender-neutral restrooms, for example) she would be able to assist and connect me with decision makers. Likewise, I can connect her to folks in my office to make change.
Much like the zombie apocalypse, change can happen quickly when using a model that includes as many people as possible.
Change Agent Tip #3: Celebrate All Successes (Big or Small)
And then, when it’s all said and done, and we’ve worked together to create change, we can go out for shawarma. Celebrate your achievements and build on your relationships.
And then, as Jay Z said, it’s on to the next one…
> BONUS <
Podcast With Valerie Heruska on SA Professionals Role in Development Efforts