Practices that Support Student Agency
Build resources that support student governance
As a group of peers, all-student governing bodies offer experience in democratic deliberation and decision-making. Students learn the potential and value of democracy and also learn to protect democratic rights by agreeing on process, governing documents, and position qualifications.
When students have full responsibility for programming, they learn to respond and problem-solve as issues arise. This responsiveness can extend to how they relate to social issues and current events, prompting students to collaborate on what action needs to be taken to address problems on local, state, national, and international levels.
Assess before planning
Students find they can reach their goals when they assess and analyze their context collectively. Through practice, students build their ability to identify strengths and weaknesses internal to their organization, determine external opportunities and threats, and envision multi-year goals.
Dedicate time for deliberation
Consensus-building takes time. Students are able to become more invested in their organization when democratic processes, like brainstorms and small discussions, are in place. When deliberation time is built into agendas, students feel more comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas and creating opportunities to learn from one another.
Create a culture of accountability
Innovative leadership involves taking risks and accepting the consequences. Students learn to be responsible for their actions by assessing what went wrong, being accountable to their peers, and developing better practices. By creating job descriptions, personnel committees, and division of labor agreements, students are able to hold each other accountable for the organization to grow and serve its mission.
Mentor new leaders
Student organizations have turnover, and leaders transitioning because of graduation. This brings student leaders to learn the importance of developing future leaders. Leadership is learned not inherited, and when strong mentorship builds student confidence, students who may have never thought of themselves as leaders learn that they can lead.
Advance staff qualifications and training
Staff have the opportunity to step out of roles of authority and work side-by-side with students. This is a fulfilling but challenging shift from most workplace experiences. Success requires recruiting qualified staff and providing feedback and training, particularly to ensure the equal empowerment of underrepresented student communities.
Foster safe and healthy spaces
Inclusive spaces will not evolve without intentional practices. Creating a space where all students feel safe to share their experiences and ideas is done through establishing meeting agreements and sustaining fair and democratic decision-making processes. Patience is an essential component of this process, and students are able to develop this skill by actively listening to and respecting each other’s opinions.
Commit to representation
Including all voices and experiences results in decisions that benefit all. To have the benefit of each community’s voice, it is critical to have each community represented directly in discussions about common issues.