Let's talk about the Student Leadership awards

By Marie O'Neal, Staff Writer

On Friday, October 9, Student Life held an informational meeting for all registered student organizations and their respective advisors. The meeting covered a variety of topics such as the roles and missions of the organizations as well as training to request funds for activities and reserve spaces for events.

During the meeting, Joshua Woods, Graduate Assistant of Student Activities, announced that a different approach will be taken with this year’s Student Leadership Awards, which are presented at the end of each academic year to the organization of the year, student leader of the year, and advisor of the year. The awards are given to those who “exemplify leadership and excellence through service and dedication to student life.”

Instead of organizations, students, and advisors being nominated for awards by the Newman community, individuals will be required to nominate themselves or their organizations. They will then present their activities and achievements to a panel of judges, who will decide which club or individual will receive the award.

As a gut reaction, this just seemed odd to me. Isn’t an award something given to somebody because their community recognizes their impact on others?

If I’m being completely honest, I don’t really see the point to the Student Leadership Awards to begin with. I think many awards are simply a nominal recognition of a person’s or organization’s work, and don’t truly reflect the purpose of our organizations.

Moreover, sometimes these awards are used as bragging rights or just to enhance one’s resumé, but I’ll save my opinion on that for another article.

Now don’t get me wrong- I think celebrating one another's success is vital, especially within the Newman community. But the idea of nominating oneself for an award just doesn’t sit well with me.

During the meeting, all RSOs were required to state their mission, as well as what they hope to contribute to their members and to the Newman community at large.

Not once did I hear an organization’s representative speak about awards or outside praise.

Newman’s Vision Statement states, “Together with our community partners, we develop leaders who think critically, act compassionately, and work diligently to create a more just and peaceful world that honors the dignity of all people.”

When I read this, and when I think of the mission of Newman University, I think that our purpose for existing is counter-cultural. In a world that constantly tells us we should work to advance our own agenda and to receive recognition for our achievements, our university calls us to turn away from these awards, which can create a sense of hierarchy and a temptation to climb a worldly social ladder.

I love the idea of servant-leadership. The term servant-leader was coined by Robert Greenleaf and is described as the following: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…”

I think this definition goes hand-in-hand with our mission at Newman. When I think about those who, in my own opinion, deserve to be recognized and honored in the community, I think about people who embody servant-leadership.

But because of the nature of servant-leadership, these individuals would never be the ones to nominate themselves or their organizations for these awards, as prestige and recognition is never their goal. Frankly, someone who is truly humble and working towards their mission would never nominate themselves for these awards.

I fear that by changing the awards to this system of self-nomination, it will encourage leaders and groups to tailor their activities to fulfill a checklist that will look impressive to a group of judges.

Ultimately, I would like to see our registered student organizations cultivate an environment of understanding, inclusion and collaboration instead of competition and division.

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