Leadership in Action: Series #5 – Student Voice

Leadership in Action: Series #5 – Student Voice

This is the fifth in a series of blogs that the Living Leadership Blog will be posting regarding leadership in action. These blogs are meant to highlight the many innovative and unique ways by which U of T students and affiliates have decided to engage within the community. Each experience presents a diverse array of skills and dynamics that all pertain to student engagement and leadership.

This week we present two inspiring individuals who have made their voices heard throughout the U of T community through involved in The Varsity and Trinity College’s student government. 

The Varsity 

Founded in 1880, The Varsity is the University of Toronto’s award-winning paper of record and one of the oldest student newspapers in Canada. They have published the work of distinguished alumni such as William Lyon Mackenzie King, Naomi Klein, Linda McQuaig, Bob Rae, and many others. They are U of T’s only tri-campus news publication, serving the St. George, Mississauga, and Scarborough campuses.

For more information, or if you would like to read The Varsity, click here.

Trinity College Meeting (TCM) 

Trinity College’s highest body of student government is the Trinity College Meeting (TCM). The TCM is unique to Trinity as they are the only college in North America whose governance is conducted by direct democracy. It is a body of which all the College’s students are members, rather than an elected student council. Every student can bring forward motions, speak, and vote at the TCM. 

For more information, click here. 

The individuals highlighted are recipients of the 2016 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards.

The Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards: 2016 Recipients

Josh Oliver: Editor-in-Chief, The Varsity

Aditya Rau: Head of Arts, Trinity College, TCM

Read below to discover the unique experiences that both Diva and Jennifer had in their leadership roles!

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership means helping people to accomplish something. ~ Josh

Leadership boils down to two things. The first is vision. And the second is the capacity to awaken possibility in others. Vision means having a comprehensive understanding of where we are, where we’re headed, and how we plan on getting there. In the absence of vision, there can’t be alignment. And in the absence of alignment, there can’t be forward momentum. That my fellow Heads and I had a clear vision for our 8-month terms meant that we were able to leave our community slightly better than we found it. Awakening possibility in others involves inspiring others to believe that their efforts can help achieve what was previously deemed impossible. I am inspired by the words of Benjamin Zander, a former conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who states that “… the conductor doesn’t make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful.” Encouraging students to believe that we must and we will pursue change; that we must and will put our students first; and that we must and will always commit to being better was critical to my leadership of Trinity. ~Aditya

Q: What would you say is the highlight of your leadership role?

The highlight of my role was seeing students reading the newspaper. If I was walking to class or on the subway and I saw a stranger reading the newspaper, I kind of wanted to hug them. (I never did.) I think many students don’t realize how much love goes into making their campus newspaper. ~ Josh

One of my favorite moments as Head of Arts has to be the Frosh Week parade in early September. As the student leader responsible for community affairs at Trinity, witnessing the energy of first-years and upper-years alike as we wound our way through the streets of Toronto – whilst I led Trinity’s unmatched chanting, singing and dancing efforts – was an inspiring and unforgettable experience. The other memorable moment relates back to discussions around gender equity. After a tense, tumultuous and divisive year, an unprecedented number of students (194) gathered at a TCM to pass motions to remove gender binary language from the TCM Constitution, to see Student Heads receive equity training and to begin the installation of gender neutral washrooms in residence. All did indeed pass, nearly unanimously. This event stands out as a highlight because it reinforces my belief that communities succeed when they undertake the long, hard work of raising issues, responding to them, debating policy and achieving consensus. It was also a firm reminder that apathy has no place at Trinity. ~Aditya

Q: What has been your greatest leadership challenge ? How did you overcome this challenge?

I think the fashionable ideal of decision making is that you should reach a consensus through discussion and collaboration. That’s a nice idea, but the challenge of running a newspaper is that you almost never have enough time. The paper must go to the printer at a certain time, and online news should be produced as fast as possible, so there isn’t space or time for everyone to agree. You have to be confident in your role. Hierarchy works when you realize that being the ‘boss’ doesn’t mean you are ‘superior’, it means you have a different job to do. Sometimes one person has to make a decision, and under certain circumstances that is your job. I remember that when I was a junior editor, I relied on the Editor-in-Chief to make decisions and accept the responsibility. If you aren’t prepared to do that, then you’re letting other people down. At the same time, especially in a student organization, you can’t be a dictator. It’s very important that you listen, and that you make people feel that they’ve been heard. You also have to have colleagues who you can rely on to challenge you, and tell you that you’re wrong. I was very fortunate in that way. ~ Josh

Trinity is a storied institution. In the Fall of 2015, important issues of gender and identity language arose in our governing documents. Students pushed for a language change from “Men and Women of College” to “Members of College”. These efforts were not met, and numerous individuals expressed the feeling of being “disappointed to be a Trinity student”. “How can students look their peers in the eye and deny them fundamental recognition of their respective identities?” and “How can we build a community where students of all gender identities feel comfortable?” The tensions between our traditions and the demands of diverse community manifested themselves around these questions and, in so doing, posed the greatest leadership challenge during my term as Head of Arts. 

I chaired the College’s Student Equity Committee, for two consecutive years, where issues around the role of gender binaries, gender neutral washrooms and spaces, female leadership, socio-economic barriers to, among others were discussed. This resulted in the presentation and passage of several constitutional amendments seeking greater gender equity, as well as my authoring a best practices report that sought to shape Trinity culture and policy for the years ahead. ~Aditya

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