April 19, 2018

SONG | Cornell Student Leaders, Get Your Priorities Straight

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Remember when we were laughing at the Trump administration? Now it’s Cornell’s turn. If we can really let something on the equivalence of Pepe upend the entire idea of democracy, we’re just as embarrassing as bad tweets and childish foreign affair rants.

But let’s get real here — the actions of the Student Assembly were no surprise to anyone. Any student organization at Cornell doing this would be no surprise. It’s almost dystopian and Black Mirror-esque, how all progress can stop over a meme and a handful of smart people get all up in a rut while the rest of the campus watches in horror and confusion. But really, how we got here isn’t absurd or confusing at all.

At Cornell, we are trained to come out on top. And the simple truth is, we don’t have our priorities straight as student leaders. We prioritize saving our own faces rather than the people we serve. We see everything as a power scramble. We care more about stubbornness and our pride, rather than progress for our own organizations.

As the president of an organization at Cornell, I’ve sat in on other executive board meetings where private transcripts were typed out and corrupt phone calls were made to sway regular members. I have been a part of boards where deceptive testimonies were released because the board is too afraid to admit they were too disorganized to hold an event. Working on and observing some of the e-boards at Cornell has given me little faith for the future of our generation. It has given me no hope of authority devoted to the well-being of the people around them.

If the S.A. had truly embraced the idea of serving the Cornell population, they would have seen how the rest of us see this embarrassing and infuriating situation — we cast our thousands votes, and it turns out our opinions and voices were considered no more heavily than a meme. The student body the S.A. “serves” spoke clearly: We wanted our votes counted. The choice was simple, and yet it took weeks for the S.A. to finally begrudgingly come to consider the votes with push and shove from every direction. Over the past month, all the school saw was a group of “students leaders” squabbling over political specificities just to prove a point, abandoning the people they serve in the process. If this isn’t a lack of responsibility from student leaders to the students they serve, I don’t know what is.

The S.A is just one minute instance of leadership mentalities gone astray at Cornell. Humans are inherently selfish, as they say. But as student leaders, our jobs are different — it is our job to do everything against that instinct, even if it feels unnatural. It’s our job to be able to stand in the shoes of every person in our organization and ensure that they may have the same environment that made us fall in love with our organization in the first place.

Being a true student leader is to simply give opportunity to those around us, to stand in the back of the line and let everyone go safely first rather than always leading the front. It is to be the last to eat dinner during an event so there is enough food for everyone, be the last to lock up the door and shut off the lights because it means all your peers can go home first. It is to stop and listen to the people we serve before raising our own hand, because we realize their voices are far more important than our own. Being a student leader isn’t glamorous. It’s a sacrifice. And until we learn to sacrifice everything we’ve been taught to protect — our image, our pride, our power — we will never be great student leaders.

Kelly Song is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Songbird Sings runs biweekly.