Leadership in Action #6: Student work in Equity

Leadership in Action #6: Student work in Equity

This is the sixth and final post 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’s series focuses on work carried out by student groups on campus who have made the basis of their leadership engagement around equitable practices pertaining to culture, the on campus community and sustainability practices. 

German Studies Students’ Union

The German Studies Students’ Union is the course union for the German Studies department at the University of Toronto. Conducting social and academic events, the GSSU is an organization where students can socialize and expand their knowledge.

For more information, click here

Equity, UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union represents all 50,000 full-time undergraduate and professional faculty students at UofT’s St. George and Mississauga campuses. They work to build community on campus and ensure you have the best possible student experience while you are here.

They are governed by a Board of Directors elected from every college and faculty at the University. There are also six Executive Committee members who work full-time to advance the goals and programs of the Students’ Union.

For more information, click here.

U of T Entomophagy Club- Bug Bites

Bug Bites aims to be the first entomophagy-inspired organization at U of T. The organization’s purpose is to initiate a movement that promotes food consciousness and sustainable consumption, on campus and beyond. Entomophagy refers to the consumption of insects, and has been championed by the UN as a more efficient and sustainable means of food production. Insects are also an excellent alternative protein source and a dietary staple for billions of people worldwide. We are a passionate group of students that have come to believe that entomophagy has a role to play in the future of food production, and we wish to share our passion on campus.

For more information, click here

The Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards: 2016 Recipients

Emily Tsui: Co-President, International Relations Society , German Studies Students’ Union

Najiba Sardar: Vice-President Equity, UTSU

Elspeth Mathau: Co-founder, U of T Entomophagy Club- Bug Bites

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

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

The most important thing is to work together to bring out the best qualities and skills in each other. The best outcomes result from collaborations, and leadership means consulting the team in establishing a direction for the project and managing differences in opinion to form a consensus, or as close to one, as possible. While stepping up to lead is of course the key aspect of any given role, I’ve learned that it is just as important to step back and let others shine when possible.  This means recognizing those who have contributed to any given project. At the end of the day, everyone is working together towards a shared goal, and a leader should work to make the process as enjoyable and memorable in the process. ~Emily

I think leadership means to help create structures of empowerment for those around you. I don’t think it necessarily means being the most vocal or visible (although sometimes that is the case). I think it means strengthening your peers and helping guide and provide tools to succeed in whatever the goal may be. I borrow these ideas from Lao Tzu when he said, “A leader is best when people barely know they exist, when their work is done, their aim fulfilled, [the people] will say: we did it ourselves.” To me, leadership is about empowering people. ~Najiba

As a student leader it is important to lead by example and always be communicating with your team and the community you’re serving since great change and leadership happens through collaboration and teamwork. Also to know when to step up and step back is very important so that the people you are helping to lead and create change for can also give direction and be empowered by leading themselves. ~Elspeth

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

By far, the best part of these positions was receiving the opportunity to meet the larger student leadership community at the University of Toronto. I have become constantly inspired from hearing the stories and the experiences of these leaders, and collaborating with them has allowed me to develop my own skill sets as well as to make friends that I know will last a lifetime. ~Emily

The highlight of my role (besides getting to meet a few celebrities at frosh related events!) was definitely pushing for the introduction of a sexual violence policy. VP Equity’s of UTSU-past had laid the groundwork in advocating for the dire need of a policy. During my term, after various meetings, articles, and media interviews, the committee was announced. Knowing that incoming U of T students will have a conversation around sexual violence that did not particularly exist when I was an undergraduate is fulfilling to say the least. ~Najiba

I am very proud of my work with the Campus Agriculture Network in the past year, transitioning the groups to the first University Food Policy Council the UTFPC. The group was able to expand beyond its roots in campus gardening to tackle more food security and sustainability issues on campus. ~Elspeth

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

In looking to diversify the programming that political science students can participate in, I came to realize that there was a lack of opportunity for undergraduate students to orally present their research and to receive feedback on their work from their peers. I decided that one way to rectify this gap was to establish the Undergraduate Research Colloquium for Political Science Students. This was the first event of its type that I knew of, and not having any experience with these kinds of events, I struggled to conceptualize how it might play out. The first thing I did was let my fellow executive members of this plan, and we worked together to refine the concept. Halfway through the school year, we held a by-election, and we had a new executive member join our team. With only two months’ notice, our newly elected member, Eric Parizeau, was able to take the lead with me in finding expert panellists, arranging logistics, and in co-leading the selection committee for students. We collaborated with the rest of the team, and this experience deepened my conviction of the importance of working with others, and the role of a leader to bring together skilled individuals to work on a project together. ~Emily 

In the position of Vice-President Equity, my job was to advocate for social justice and equity issues on campus. I think the greatest challenge I personally had to overcome was learning how to cooperate with a variety of perspectives and to bridge those gaps in order to find common ground. It was important for me to keep in mind that it truly was cooperation that would propel the organization forward. Recognizing that the issues I was advocating for were beyond me as an individual allowed me to put things into perspective. ~Najiba

One of the greatest leadership challenges I encountered was figuring out how to get enough feedback and engagement from the campus community to make sure we were really listening to the student body and adapting and changing to its needs throughout the year.

Environmental and community activism are things that I have been very active in and passionate about for much of my life. By working for student groups on campus I was able to lead projects and inspire more people to create and promote a more sustainable campus community. My position on the UTFPC in particular and allowed me to connect with more people in the campus community and tackle larger issues like improving access to locally produced food and coordinating environmental seminars. ~Elspeth

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