Student Leader “Super Heros”

I’ve had the luxury of never leaving college — living the dream even 8 years after walking across the stage leading to the “real world.” The additional two years of Masters work and the subsequent six I’ve spent as a professional on campus working with students in a variety of capacities (hall director, supervisor, mentor, adviser, coach, tough love guru, friend, etc) have taught me more than a few things — but I am still constantly amazed by the incredible commitment, passion and hard work of student leaders on every campus I’ve been able to affiliate myself with. Student leaders really are Super Heros.

Don’t believe me? Pop in on a random day of student leader training on a college campus and you’ll either see 1.) a super hero themed training session (I do a killer presentation on Nancy Schlossberg’s theory on transition based off of The Incredibles), 2.) a super hero themed apparel day, 3.) a professional staff member dressed as a super hero, or 4.) any combination of the above. Super heros are everywhere on a college campus. Now, let me tell you why that is a bad thing…

If I had to guess, most of the students who regularly read RemixYourHealth would find themselves involved (either academically or co-curricularly) with health promotions, exercise science, dietetics or other health and wellness related fields. We probably cover the range from subject matter experts (not me) to people who have seen the benefit of physical activity in their life (me) and cover those with strong opinions (guilty) to those just looking to learn more (Hi!). We probably are a part of, or were involved with at one time, a student organization in a topic completely unrelated to health or wellness. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with a few of these such groups over the past few years.

Students today are dealing with some pretty heavy topics. Professionals and faculty are too, for that matter — the same ones. If I had to label them, I’d probably go with sex, alcohol, drugs and mental health issues. At least, these are the most common topics that present themselves once I’m able to work with a student leader past the awkward dance around the topic. For as much information as is available out there for the taking, I’m shocked to learn just how little is considered “common sense” with students about sex, alcohol, drugs and mental health.

Now, I’ll give you one thing, perhaps I’m not the best judge of “common sense.” After all, I did just turn 30 — old enough to know better, young enough to still play dumb if I need to. 🙂 But, bottom line is — I don’t have to, and either do you. Time and time again I see students in leadership positions in an organization take on the responsibility of educating their peers about safe sex, knowing their limits, discussing the consequences of abuse, the benefits of talking to someone, etc. I’m immediately reminded of two lessons I took away from my Masters work in counseling psychology:

1.) “Do good-ers do more harm than good.” and
2.) “You’re going to learn just enough about counseling to know your limits. And then, you’ll learn how to make the referral.”

In our desire to help our friends (or our students), we often are quick to share the limited knowledge we have about a topic in order to encourage responsible decision making. If we don’t watch out though, some times half of the story can be more dangerous than no story at all. Every time I attend a session on any of these topics, I still walk away with a better understanding of the topic. I am constantly thankful for the professional staff members (and the peer educators) that exist as support/education resources on many college campuses. Once you’ve identified a need your group has, this is the point where you can make a referral.

Health Centers: You likely have access to a health center on (or near) your campus. They aren’t there just for when you get sick. As a matter of fact, there is usually a team of professionals completely committed to preventing the necessity of a visit to them in the first place. I encourage you to look past the (potentially) free condoms and think about inviting in someone to talk about the very real risks and consequences associated with unprotected/risky sex. Or, if the group isn’t ready for a sex talk — I’m sure they would be happy to talk about ways to make it through flu season.

Counseling Resources & Services: Said in a whisper so as not to scare anyone away — always my favorite part of a campus tour. Are the students in your group too worried about the “stigma” of heading to the counseling center? Bring the staff to them. Making a commitment to be healthy physically and emotionally is a huge step in terms of supporting your peers through challenging situations. Yes, sometimes all they need is an ear. But, sometimes they need more. The outdated fear that the desire to talk to someone about what we’re facing means something is “wrong with us” just doesn’t fly anymore. And, sometimes as a friend — we can’t position ourself in such a way to deliver a message that someone outside the group might be able to with the same clarity, intent and strength.

Dietitians: This one may not be as popular on every campus — but many schools are now staffed with full- or part-time dietitians committed to supporting students desire/need for making well balanced food choices at college. We’re not resigned to only offering “free pizza” to get students at events. Consider working with this campus partner to talk about campus dining alternatives or ways to raise awareness of the role nutrition plays in living a healthy life.

Student Ethics/Conduct: Unfortunately, all too often, the premise of the conversations we DO HAVE about sex, alcohol and drugs centers around “not getting caught.” You might be shocked to learn that those working in judicial/conduct offices are probably just as committed to avoid a visit from you as their friends at the Health Center. Take a step back from the conversation on upside down solo cups and not walking alone to look at the big picture. Professionals in this area are usually well equipped to facilitate conversations on living congruently with your values, strategies for being more responsible and the very real long term effects of use and abuse.

There are people out there with the answers — use them. Give yourself permission to put up the super suit for a night! Have you invited someone in to a student group to do a presentation about sex, alcohol, drugs or mental health? How did it go?


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