Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Student Leader - Administration Relationship

The literature regarding student and administration, let alone student leaders and administration, is relatively new. In the past, students were often viewed as simply “participants in and beneficiaries of service learning” (Jacoby 2013: 599) instead of partners. In other words, the student's voice was often mitigated by having no impact on their learning and being reliant on the administration and faculty. Yet, using Harvard University as an example, students wear a plethora of different hats on campus--from teaching fellows to presidents of organizations to members of advisory committees; students are shaping and changing the institution. The partnerships between administrators and universities are not just beneficial for the university but also for the students. Under the theoretical framework of the youth empowerment, as proposed by Anderson and Sandmann (2009), the partnership between the students and adults (administrators) in which both parties have equal weight in the decision-making processes fosters key areas of growth for the students. 

More specifically, we see this model in action with student leaders on campus. It would be naive to argue that all students engage in these forms of leadership or activities; rather, there are a select group of students that engage with and hold these positions of power. This idea of “Elite Leadership”--“typically from gifted and talented programs, largely from middle-class backgrounds, and often representing privileged classes in society with disproportionate access to resources” (Komives 2014: 8)--problematizes the relationship between students and administrators in that the latter is no longer engage with all of the student population but instead with a select few. However, Komives fails to acknowledge the different types of leadership positions that are demanded by social circumstances.

Students from marginalized backgrounds have the burden of acquiring student leadership positions in hopes of bringing about change to their campuses: “higher education practices, policies, expectations, and norms tend to place the responsibility for redressing inequities on members of marginalized groups instead of on the institutions and practitioners that have a professional responsibility to remedy equity gaps” (Malcom-Piqueux 2017: 3). Using Harvard again to contextualize this, students on campus from marginalized communities lead the charge, meet with administrators and work within and around the community to bring progressive changes. For instance, when the pre-orientation program for underrepresented students was rejected, the first-generation community mobilized to work with administrators to bring the change. The literature of higher education often fails to address this; this causes the issues on campus to seem as if it pressing for all students when in reality they affect a specific population, erasing the extra labor put forth by these students. On a similar note, the literature also lacks content in discussing the inequalities in the partnerships with students and the normalization of unpaid student labor. These students are often overworked and while the institutions boast about having strong partnerships, the students are left to create and execute action plans while simply receiving nothing more than the approval of administrators.

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