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Photo courtesy of Undergraduate Government of Boston College / Facebook

Differing Definitions of Leadership on Campus

At a university like Boston College, nearly every student attending has taken on a leadership role in one form or another. Throughout their time in high school, students were likely faced with immense pressure to have everything figured out before college applications started. By senior year, then, it seemed like everyone knew what they liked to do and could succeed at doing it. The rules change, though, upon arriving to college. When you’re thrust into a place with limitless possibilities, the person you thought you wanted to be in high school can—and maybe should—change drastically.

It’s hard to go far on campus without being reminded that BC is always looking to shape students into “men and women for others.” The words are familiar and catchy, but it’s hard to know just what they mean. The answer will be different for everyone, but it’s undeniable that being able to work within a group is a crucial part of living that Jesuit ideal. By offering freshmen different programs that foster necessary interpersonal skills, BC gives students the chance to develop leadership skills early on. Some examples of the available opportunities include going on the LeaderShape Retreat, joining the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), or getting involved in the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC).

LeaderShape is a six-day retreat that takes place right before winter break ends. The program is not BC specific, but is actually a nationally-run program that includes over 80 institutions and now has over 300,00 graduates (famous graduates of the program include Google co-founder Larry Page, Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, and Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani). Participants are recruited from BC on the basis of making the retreat as diverse as possible across all spectrums, including ethnicity, gender, and class year.

Admitted students are then brought to Rhode Island as a way of removing them from the distractions of their typical schedules. There’s an emphasis on personal reflection in order to help students find what they’re truly passionate about and how they can pursue that later on in their lives.

ELP, on the other hand, is a one-year program that admits 50 freshmen. It’s considered an “experiential leadership program,” which looks to foster the skills needed to be a leader, such as the ability to collaborate and work well with others. The program is built around the social change model—studying interactions between individual values, group values, and societal values.

“The hope is that students come out better prepared to hold leadership positions on campus,” says JonRobert Bagley, graduate assistant of the ELP team. The program is designed to help students learn more about themselves and how they can best spend their time at BC.

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) is unique in the sense that it directly places freshmen into leadership positions upon application and admission to the Undergraduate Leadership Academy (ULA). The purpose of the organization is to engage with students and work to make the changes students want to see at Boston College. The program is highly selective, as only 30 freshmen are admitted each year. According to ULA directors, seniors Zach DuBoulay, MCAS '17, and Lynn Petrella, MCAS '17, the ideal group of freshmen will vary in socioeconomic status, gender, and race, so that everyone can contribute something unique. The end group is ultimately comprised of people who are passionate about addressing the problems around them. Through their advocacy work and listening to guest speakers, ULA “helps to form a community,” according to DuBoulay.

ULA works to develop leadership skills in its participants by bringing in speakers to discuss tough topics like mental health and institutionalized racism. By meeting with administrators, ULA members have the chance to talk about changes happening on campus. The program “looks to make freshman year more meaningful,” says Petrella. The goal is ultimately to train students to become effective advocates for issues they care about.

Leadership opportunities at BC can be competitive, which for many is discouraging. Working closely with others also doesn’t fall into everyone’s areas of interest. But there is something commendable about making sure that, even in a large university, freshmen get a chance to find out more about themselves and what they’re passionate about. While each is unique, the leadership opportunities at Boston College seek to promote diversity and help people become who they’d like to be.

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