How can formal student organizations in secondary and post-secondary education leverage the development of student leadership capacities? After describing the historical and current significance of student organizations, this volume explores effective organizational structures to promote leadership growth. It then focuses on identity-based and professional groups, and how educators can build stronger connections to keep students involved throughout their educational careers.
Readers will learn about research-based ideas regarding:
* How student organizations should be structured and supported to optimize leadership development for the students who participate within them.
* How to create a campus environment that supports students from all backgrounds in exploring their leader identity and growth.
The Jossey-Bass quarterly report series New Directions for Student Leadership explores leadership concepts and pedagogical topics of interest to high school and college leadership educators. Issues are grounded in scholarship and feature practical applications and best practices in youth and adult leadership education.
Student organizations have existed for almost as long as educational institutions have. This chapter examines the historical role of student organizations in developing leadership capacity in students, as well as their current roles on high school and collegiate campuses in creating transformational environments for student leadership learning and growth.
The Significance of Student Organizations to Leadership Development
David M. Rosch, Jasmine D. Collins
Student-led organizations in secondary and postsecondary education have historically been popular among students as opportunities for cocurricular or extracurricular involvement (Eccles, 2005). Today, they continue to serve as primary avenues for developing the leadership capacity of those who engage in their activities. In 2015, more than one in four university first-year students reported being involved in student-led organizations during their first year in college (Rios-Aguilar, Eagan, & Stolzenberg, 2015). Although student involvement data are relatively sparse within high schools, a foundational national study revealed that more than one in three students participated in fine-arts, vocational, or academic-focused student clubs during their high school career (McNeal, 1995).
The degree of diversity within student organizations is difficult to understate and includes groups focused on academic issues, career development, governance, identity, cultural, and affinity preferences, and those related to sports, religious topics, service, and countless others (Dugan, 2013). These groups exist, broadly, to advocate their views to peers, serve as a welcoming environment for members, provide opportunities for interaction and goal achievement, and function as a collective voice for students within their environment. Although it would be impossible to focus on each of these topical areas, this chapter addresses issues and opportunities that are common to all students who seek to come to together in formal organizations in high school and university campuses.
Related to student development, we borrow language from the adaptive leadership model (Heifetz, 1994), where we suggest student-led organizations provide a "holding environment" in which students can learn from their peers, incorporate new perspectives, and practice new behaviors (p. 104). They offer students the ability to find their own voice within a group and develop their leadership identity (Komives, Longerbeam, Owen, & Mainella, 2006). They can also serve as a pipeline of involvement from secondary school to higher education and serve as the foundation of a professional network once students graduate. In addition, student organizations can serve as pebbles thrown into a pond, providing opportunities for widening the perspectives of their uninvolved peers through the waves of their activities within the hallways of their secondary schools and the quads of their university campuses.
This chapter examines the historical significance of student organizations and their contemporary potential for supporting the leadership development of those who participate within them. In this chapter, we examine the historical foundations of student organizations, using prominent and prototypical examples of student organization-led events to show the impact of these groups on student leadership development. We also show how student organization involvement is uniquely suited to accelerate leadership development, incorporating prevalent theories of young adult learning and growth.
The Historical Emergence of Student-Led Organizations
One of higher education's most prominent and long-standing goals has been to foster social progress through the social and civic development of those who would likely go on to assume positions of social, religious, and/or political importance in society (Thelin, 2011). Given the structured opportunities for students to engage in specific leadership activities through involvement in student organizations, these organizations have played a significant role in fulfilling this civic mission even in the earliest collegiate contexts.
Foundations of Student Leadership
Debate clubs, eating clubs, and literary societies of the eighteenth century are among the earliest examples of college student groups that self-assembled along common interests in the pursuit of specific knowledge or particular skills (Thelin, 2011). Phi Beta Kappa, regarded as the oldest academic honor society and oldest Greek letter organization in the nation, was established at the College of William and Mary in 1776 by five students who were interested in creating an environment that would allow for the free exchange of ideas among like-minded student peers dedicated to the principles of liberal education (Phi Beta Kappa, n.d.). With the establishment of a Greek-letter name, an oath of secrecy, a motto, and secret handshake, the Phi Betta Kappa Society established some of the characteristics that would come to distinguish Greek-letter organizations from other campus student groups in the following centuries.
In addition to the uninhibited pursuit of intellectual curiosity afforded to members of Phi Beta Kappa and other secret societies, participation in student-led organizations also provided a space to learn skills such as collaboration, communication, and working together for the greater good. Eating clubs of the late 1800s provide an example of this type of collaborative leadership. Within these clubs, groups of students self-assembled, gathered resources, and assigned responsibilities such as collecting dues, negotiating with landlords to rent a dining space, and hiring a cook (Thelin, 2011).
Over time, student organizations evolved from small, self-assembled groups to more complex organizations that served as avenues for the student body to identify their peer leaders. Social hierarchies were established through democratic processes of voting for intercollegiate athletic team captains, designating the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, and electing student government officials. These positional leaders were seen as the decision makers on campus and were often tapped to join the prominent honorary, Greek-letter, and secret societies from which local community and government leaders often emanated. Because these exclusive clubs were commonly reserved for men of senior class standing who had proven themselves as significant contributors to campus life, these selection processes also had the negative effect of serving to marginalize underrepresented students and to associate leadership with norms of masculinity and positional power.
Expanding Leadership Opportunities
Early in the twentieth century, the nation's most prestigious universities, and in turn, the clubs and organizations that denoted the "who's who" of campus life, remained almost entirely exclusive to White, Protestant, wealthy men. Consequently, African American men and women, White women, and students in religious minorities who attended these "integrated" institutions faced segregation, discrimination, and mockery when attempting to participate in the dominant campus culture (Allen, Epps, & Haniff, 1991; Thelin, 2011). This overt discrimination gave rise to student organizations that would provide a means for alternative campus engagement.
Black Greek Letter Organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority were each founded at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs)-Cornell University in 1906, Indiana University in 1911, and Butler University in 1922, respectively. Despite rampant legal and de facto barriers to access for African American students in American higher education nationally, eight Black Greek Letter Organizations that exist on an international scale today were chartered at PWIs and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) from 1906 to 1922. With governing principles such as public service, charity, improving society, and leadership, these organizations focused on the leadership development of members and enhancement of the local community from the start. The founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, for example, participated in the Women's Suffrage March in Washington, DC in the spring of 1913-just 3 months after the organization's inception (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., n.d.).
Student Organizations as Avenues for Activism and Political Involvement
By the middle of the twentieth century, an era of even more pronounced political involvement by students and student-led organizations emerged on a national scale. The nation's largest student union, the U.S. National Student Association (NSA) served as a prototypical case. Founded in 1947, this organization brought together 800 delegates from 351 colleges, universities, and national organizations to serve as a national voice for campus concerns, advocate for student civil liberties, and promote increased access to higher education (Altbach, 1997). The NSA soon ballooned to roughly one million members, using a complex governance structure composed of elected local student leaders, national congressional delegates, and officers elected by the congress-all coordinated by a national supervisory board (Altbach). The NSA boasted an impressive bureaucratic structure, providing a national platform for students to educate campus administrators, fellow students, and the general public about important...