One of my goals for my final Associated Collegiate Press conference was to learn how to be a better leader for The Campanil. And I did just that — but not in the way that I expected.
The student-led leadership session started out well. The student was giving some good tips on leadership style and throwing a few cat memes in here and there — my inner crazy-cat-lady was hooked. Right up until she got to the activity part of her presentation.
The activity involved asking each audience member to write down things that they couldn’t live without, including people, objects, memories and places. The speaker then asked us to cross out things on the list. The goal, the speaker said, was to illustrate the value of making difficult decisions as a leader.
I agree with her — being a leader does involve difficult decisions. I’ve had to make tough choices that were best for our publication. But it was her language during the activity that I took problem with.
“Cross things off the list,” she said. “You have to decide which family members you want to live and which you want to die. If you cross their name off your list, they’re dead now.”
The speaker went on to then tell us to “imagine [we] have Alzheimer’s” and have to cross out memories as if they never happened.
I was shocked to hear her say such insensitive and inappropriate things. Loss of a loved one and Alzheimer’s disease are two very serious things that should never be trivialized or joked about. What was even more upsetting for me as a leader was that a staff member of The Campanil who attended this session has lost a loved one and found this session to be extremely triggering.
I debated with myself on how to handle this. I thought about simply walking out. But then I reminded myself that I want to be a good leader — that’s why I had come to this session, after all. And part of my goal as a leader is to ensure the quality of The Campanil but to also respect and care for my staff.
At the end of the session, I approached the speaker and introduced myself. I then explained to her how inappropriate and insensitive her activity had been and that it had been extremely triggering to one of my staff members who had experienced the death of a loved one. I encouraged her to think about how her words affect others and to, in the future, look for an activity that is more sensitive to real-life losses. She sincerely apologized and seemed receptive to my feedback.
Before becoming editor-in-chief of The Campanil, I probably wouldn’t have said anything. I would have kept quiet because I didn’t think I had a strong enough voice. A year ago, I was far too terrified to face issues head-on. Now I know that that is something I not only have the power to do, but that I want and need to do. In the past year I’ve learned what kind of leader I want to be, and that’s one that not only makes sure her staff does their job, but also supports her staff — whether that is giving them a shoulder to cry on, bouncing ideas off of each other or standing up for them outside of the newsroom. As I told the speaker, being a good leader is not only about making hard decisions, but also about being sensitive to people’s experiences and creating a safe space.
I met my goal of learning to be a better leader, but not from the speaker. Instead, I learned it from myself.