The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

The student news site of Francis W. Parker School

The Parker Weekly

Decentralizing US Student Leadership

Why we need more variety in leadership power
Photo credit: The Parker Weekly

Starting freshman year, students are inundated with information surrounding leadership opportunities at Parker. Many students spring at the opportunity to get involved, and begin joining various clubs/organizations and applying for leadership positions as they progress throughout high school. 

On January 22, the Upper School had a Re-Orientation Day, involving a variety of programming meant to help students get back into the second semester. At the end of the day, there was a meeting with student leaders in the Harris Center. The entire Harris Center was completely filled – a powerful visual for the amount of leaders and leadership opportunities at Parker. 

Many of the students in that room are leaders of more than just one club. Even on our own Editorial Board, many of us are also involved in leadership with Student Government, Model UN, Athletics, affinity groups, and more. As much as having a wide variety of leadership involvements is fantastic, as it shows just how passionate Parker students are about a variety of topics, we also implore you to take a step back and consider the larger picture of the potential inequities that this leadership overlap might pose. 

Leadership accessibility is a crucial part of this issue. For students that were not at Parker in middle school, they did not have access to the middle school leadership opportunities that tend to transfer over into the high school. For example, students who participated in middle school Model UN tend to do high school Model UN, and already have established connections with the high school Model UN leaders who are captains for middle school Model UN. When those students then go to apply for Model UN captain, the existing leaders know them better than someone who just joined in high school. This is not to say that new-to-Parker students are unable to make successful connections, they just do not have that head start in middle school.

Additionally, certain advantages are given to students with siblings already in the Upper School. While it is not inherently their fault that they get leadership opportunities because of their siblings, it is important to recognize the role that bias plays when it comes to leadership appointment and the overall application process.  

Towards the end of the school year, as student organizations begin to plan for next year, there are always countless emails sent out about applications for leadership positions. Students diligently work on filling out these, often quite lengthy, applications – writing about why they would be best fit for the role and what they hope to achieve in each position. However, the most crucial part of this process is during the application review period. The current student leaders read carefully over each application (hopefully!) and come to a decision about who will fill in their shoes next year. It is during this time period, that leadership inequalities are especially apparent. 

There is one part of the application that applicants often overlook as a crucial element: their name. As leaders review applications, one of the first things that they see is the applicant’s name. With that can often come preliminary judgements or particular affinities, since the student leader may be friends with this person or dislike them. The application review process should be about a person’s preparation and fit for the role, not just if they are your friend or not. Additionally, if a student is already friends with the student leader, they may not spend as much time on their application, since they know that it is really their name that will get them their position, not their qualifications. This then results in ineffective leadership, as the student leaders for the following year are woefully unprepared for the role and/or do not possess the necessary qualifications. 

We, the Editorial Board, ask that current student leaders think about the potential benefits that removing names on applications during the preliminary stages of application review and undergoing implicit bias training, may have. By removing names, it ensures that all applicants have to put in a sufficient amount of work into their application, and not rely on their name to do all of the heavy lifting. This helps remove any initial bias that an application reviewer may have and ensures that each candidate is fairly judged on their leadership abilities and potential. Implicit bias training also can help student leaders more fairly judge applications, and recognize when they are being biased towards a certain individual. This self-awareness will lead to more effective leaders and thus more effective clubs/organizations. 

Additionally, we think that first semester freshmen positions should be eliminated in their entirety. Freshmen positions such as Senate Rep often create a pipeline to Cabinet and more, but those choosing the positions have no basis for choosing one freshman over another, especially for new-to-Parker students. This issue will be even more pronounced because of the elimination of the eighth grade from Student Government which also limits their collateral exposure to other institutions such as The Weekly. 

We also ask current student leaders to think about the application itself. If you are making a lengthy application, just to not even read it and only go off of the names of people that you like, it is not beneficial for students to spend time even filling it out. Instead, having a shorter application that allows leaders to actually thoroughly read and consider each application may be beneficial. 

Leadership is a crucial part of the high school experience, as it helps students learn and apply essential skills like organization, time management, communication, and dialogue, and it is important that every student has equal opportunity and access to leadership positions. 

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