It is without doubt in my mind that students leaders have a critical role to play in the effective operation of many aspects of the higher education space. Within my line of work in particular, students are a important and valued part of the community and support services we provide. They volunteer to help out with events and activities and support other students’ academic progress. Student leaders promote healthy and balanced lifestyle choices. They also refer on any issues or concerns for trained staff to manage. With this in mind, here are four reasons why student leaders have such an important role to play in higher education:
They ‘Get’ Other Students
Many staff, myself included, fondly remember what life was like as a student. BUT, as the years pass we do tend to view our memories through rose coloured glasses. We may recall that ‘we were never like that’ or ‘what are students thinking these days?’ Having student leaders helps to bridge that ever-growing gap. They’ve walked in the same shoes as our students generally only one to two years prior. They’ve shared similar experiences and most importantly, they speak their language.
They Have Access
As those working in the residential accommodation and broader higher ed space know all too well, life happens beyond the 9-5. Whilst we, like many other sites, have a dedicated after-hours staffing team, it’s our student leaders who are at ground level at all times. They notice when things are out of the ordinary, supporting students with issues or problems as they arise, and referring on when required.
They Have the Power of Persuasion
Student leaders also play an integral role in fostering healthy and happy communities. They role modelling positive, inclusive, accepting and responsible behavior. This is why so many accommodation sites and universities have peer councils or other leadership structures in place. It sounds oh-so-simple, but year on year, the behavior role modeled (good or bad) by our student leaders frequently dictates the behaviors we see in our first years. In many ways they have the ability to set acceptable and tolerated behavioral standards. They influence decision making, informally call students to order, and achieve greater buy-in. That makes selecting, training and supporting student leaders such a critical part of our role as mentors and coaches.
They Can Teach Us New Things
Finally, as this great piece in Times Higher Education noted, student leaders can provide us with our own learning opportunities. As Claire Taylor highlights, the enthusiasm, optimism, flexibility, and passion they demonstrate in their everyday roles can give us fresh perspective and a friendly reminder on why working in higher education is such a fun place to be!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kyle James on Student Leadership Careers