Warning: longish post ahead!! Reader discretion is advised.
Halfway through winter quarter of this school year, summer was finally in sight. Talk began about housing for the next year, summer plans, studying abroad and opportunities for student leadership positions. I had the privilege of serving on hall council for Emerson-Arnett halls this year and as I began to plan for the year ahead, I knew I wanted to be involved in student leadership again. Clicking through the SPU website, I considered several student government positions. Not all leadership positions at SPU are elected and the thought of going through a campaign terrified me enough to avoid learning more about those positions. Maybe I can find a senate seat that is vacant or seek out a club in need of something. There had to be something that didn’t involve going door to door, trying to convince my fellow students that I was the best candidate for a position. But slowly, and ever so slightly at first, God spoke into my desire to lead. With the well placed words of good friends and mentors, I came to realize.
This is not about me.
This is not about what is comfortable or easy. I have witnessed over and over again that the best leaders do not lead for personal gain or for comfort and praise. The best leaders lead because they are first led themselves. The best leaders choose to embrace leadership because they seek something greater for those around them. By giving into fear and allowing my discomfort of an election to dictate my next steps in leadership, I was doing everything I could to place limits and boundaries on the way God’s hand moved in my life. In a sense I was like the spoiled kid with impulse control issues, trying to outsmart the arcade game where you insert a quarter to have ten seconds to direct a claw to the prime candy or stuffed animal and drop your prize into the shoot. Only I thought I could outsmart the almighty claw by shaking the entire machine, determined to finagle my way to the honey hole of Smarties (
With much prayer and reflection, I made the conscious decision to let go of my control over the situation and put my trust in God to lead me to where I belonged. I tried to listen for God’s calling and through a series of events, I knew I needed to pursue applying for Vice President of Intercultural Affairs, a position designed to encourage and facilitate collaborative discussion on the needs, desires, concerns and perspectives of students from diverse backgrounds within the student body and in a variety of campus departments. The VPIA also works to engage strategically with other student leaders to create an environment of cultural competency, racial reconciliation and appreciation of diversity. And the big kicker? VPIA is a position elected by the entire student body (of course!). Despite my paralyzing fear of a campaign, I leaned on my passion for the beauty of human difference and the power of advocacy and relationship to empower individuals and communities. I know what it feels like to be marginalized, forgotten or misunderstood and I desired to see SPU address the struggles that students of minority face as well as create a community where justice thrives and all students feel valued and embraced. With all of this running through my head, I placed myself in God’s hands, seeking nothing more than to be a vessel of God’s work.
As I began the application process and started to formulate the platform for my campaign, I was haunted by self doubt, continuously asking myself the question, why would my peers even vote for me? I let my fear get the best of me and knew I was subconsciously trying to man handle the most powerful claw once again.
Scrapping my entire first draft, I began again, slowing things down and vacating the space in my head for God’s direction to come through. This time I wrote from my heart. I wrote of the struggles I saw my peers from diverse backgrounds facing. I wrote of the hope I had for SPU and the community that had become my family. I wrote of a future that all of us could experience if we worked together. Below is a brief summary of my platform.
Vision: Continue Growth in Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Reconciliation
One of the greatest aspects of diversity that SPU is lacking is within racial and ethnic inclusion. I strive to implement events and programs that continue and enhance the efforts being made to celebrate the racial differences that make our community so unique. I plan on increasing and awareness and attendance for the events and programs already in place such as Multicultural Night of Worship, International Dinner and In Context as well as creating new events to further SPU’s commitment to diversity.
Promotion: Expand the Boundaries of Diversity
SPU is a community of individuals that come from many different economic backgrounds, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, ability levels and philosophical viewpoints yet these additional aspects of diversity are often overlooked. It is my plan to magnify the voice of all students within university planning, event production, social awareness and community involvement. I seek to be a voice for students whose presence may not be as widely known.
Integration: Greater Presence of Intercultural Coordinators in Residence Halls
The Intercultural Coordinators in each residence hall on campus have the ability to directly promote diversity within student life and it is my goal to empower these leaders to take a more active role in advocating for the needs of students of minority. I also strive to partner with ICs to plan and implement more events within the residence halls that promote diversity from all aspects as well as work to improve attendance to existing events.
Accessibility: Improve ADA Compliance on Campus
As an individual with a disability, I have directly experienced the struggle surrounding interaction with the many accessibility features on campus that are not in working order. I have also witnessed the difficulties faced by students who could greatly benefit from operational accessibility tools but are instead met with inadequate accommodation. For example, there are many automatic door buttons in place across campus that are meant to ease the strain of passing through a doorway by individuals in wheelchairs, on crutches, with service dogs or simply in need of an extra hand. However, many of these specific buttons do not work which creates an unnecessary breach of accessibility. I plan on working to ensure that these features and many others are corrected and maintained to meet the needs of students who benefit from adaptation.
Spring quarter began and with it the campaign for all elected positions was off and running. I hung my posters and created a social media page, fighting the voice in my head of self doubt and insecurity. It was already way harder to keep the big picture in sight than I expected. My close friends endured the ups and downs of my confidence and God bless them for sticking with me as I know it was a crazy time. It seemed like a constant battle in my head to maintain confidence but in my heart I knew God was at my side through every moment of doubt and every moment of joy in connecting with my peers.
By the grace of God and a loving support system, I made it through the primary election and prepared for the homestretch. Visiting the residence halls and connecting more intimately with other students left me humbled and in awe of the heart and intelligence within this student body. This was not about one candidate winning an election. This was about a collective conversation about what we need to do to empower and appreciate each and every student. In getting to know the other candidate for VPIA, I realized that this was not a competition. We were not opponents with a prize to be won. We shared a common desire to see SPU grow and that was what mattered. Embracing this, I reached a place of grateful acceptance that whoever was elected would be a reflection of the desires of the student body. If that was me and the vision I sought after, then I was eager and ready to work hard in another way. If someone else was elected, then I was excited for the direction SPU was headed and would do everything in my power to support that student leader and the mission they brought with them.
On the night of the final election, I received a phone call and was told that I had been elected by my peers as the Vice President of Intercultural Affairs for the 2015-2016 school year. I felt a mix of relief that the campaign was over, disbelief that my peers had spoken in voting me in and an eagerness for the road ahead. In addition to myself, 5 other students were voted into office and one more was hired directly to form the ASSP Core Team (Associated Students of Seattle Pacific much like ASB in high school). The 7 of us would share an office for the entire school year and work collaboratively to serve our student body both within our individual areas and as a united team.
In the weeks and months since the election, I have learned a great deal. For one, I know now that words are not enough to enact real change. While I reflect on my platform and feel that I wrote from my heart at the time, my heart has already changed. Saying that SPU needs to better embrace diversity is not enough to positively impact lives. Saying that SPU needs to better embrace diversity doesn’t make a student of color feel more comfortable or supported on our campus. Saying SPU needs to better embrace diversity doesn’t change the lack of diverse representation in leadership both within student and staff departments. Recognizing a need for change is important to get the ball rolling but if recognition never becomes action then those words are empty. I fervently desire to do God’s work and make my words count. I strive to create spaces for people to share their stories, foster conversation on reconciliation and push for systemic change on behalf of students from diverse backgrounds. Throughout this year, I commit to never stop learning and seek to understand that with which I am not familiar. The journey ahead will not be without it’s challenges but I know that those challenges are God’s reminders to step back and remember that this is not about me. This is God’s work and our God is a God of unending, unbiased, unrestrained love and grace.