On Friday, 29th January, 2016, I attended BLUExperience, a half-day leadership retreat hosted by the Department of Student Life. BLUExperience stands for Building Leadership in the University Experience. The theme of this year’s retreat is Take Action! The objective of this retreat was to allow students to explore how to step up to become leaders in their own ways to create social change, foster civic engagement within groups by building action plans that help achieve goals, and how to make an impact by giving back to their community starting from small implementations; so as to inspire others to take action on issues each person cares about and to be the change they want to see in the world.
As a senior year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, since I had already been through a number of leadership involvements, I believed that I already had quite a good grasp on how to contribute in in the university, such as being an iConnect mentor for international students at the CIE, a Peer Health Educator to raise awareness about mental wellness, as well as an organizing committee member at the Hart House Music Committee; to name a few. I was interested in attending this event because I have always enjoyed attending new events at U of T and making interesting conversations with different people, seeing that this is the first time BLUExperience was offered. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of leadership as it relates to social justice and what that meant in the larger context. I short, I was pretty excited about the retreat.
This day was great for me to use as a refresher on how to incorporate leadership into our daily lives, articulated into a social change model. The retreat included a number of interactive group discussion and reflective activities aimed towards helping us develop an understanding of leadership in general, strengthening our knowledge of leadership competencies that we have developed and would like to learn, and how to use these skills to engage in social issues. The part that stood out most to me was the action planning workshop and brainstorming session, which taught us how to interlink our passions with current issues and what plans to improve things, in order to create concrete ideas about how to facilitate positive social movement.
Within the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, leadership is ultimately about social change that benefits all members of a local/global community. A leader is not limited to only people having higher authority, such as presidents, but anyone within a group that takes the initiative to engage in raising awareness about issues and fostering collaboration between other people who are also passionate about these concerns; in order to work together on matters that emphasize mutually defined purpose and collective commitment to making a positive difference. This makes total sense and the message is truly empowering that each and every one of us has the ability to contribute to a bigger cause.
Soon after attending this retreat, I have been very inspired to look out for things that I care about to really focus on. I am happy to say that recently, I had the opportunity to get involved in an important initiative that allows me to merge my academic studies with an issue that I and many others are concerned about: Stem Cell Transplants. I was informed that a newly-founded student group on campus was recruiting new volunteer members to facilitate an upcoming stem cell donor drive. After hearing about this opportunity, I was thrilled and immediately signed up to get more information about the group and how to train to become a volunteer. This would be a really great chance for me to offer my support to a very meaningful cause that is becoming more emergent in the patient population in Canada.
Patients with a variety of blood cancers and metabolic diseases may require a stem cell transplant as part of their treatment. However, currently, 80% of patients do not have a suitable match in their family, and must find an unrelated donor. The Stem Cell Club aims to improve the quality and quantity of membership on Canada’s stem cell donor database by advancing stem cell donor recruitment of the most-needed demographic donors at universities around Canada, by a simple cheek swap to provide a tissue sample for a DNA test. Efforts are made to improve the chances that patients in need of stem cell transplantation will find the one match they need to save their lives. Yet, finding a match for transplant is difficult: currently, over 1000 Canadians cannot find a match. The secondary mission is to raise the number of registered blood donors by supporting the activities of Canadian Blood Services. Altogether, their work will promote the health of Canadians by improving Canada’s blood and stem cell supply for patients in-need of these treatment products.
In the near future, I would like to develop as part of this group, become a leader in health care advocacy for patients in need of stem cell transplants, help coordinate stem cell drives, and recruit more potential stem cell donors into the Canadian database so that more patients with blood related cancers can benefit from improved chances of finding a suitable stem cell match for treatment, and have better quality of life. I plan to promote this to my friends and classmates who might be interested in getting involved themselves!
…… So, what are your passions and ideas for social change?
WRITTEN BY: Brianna Chan