Seattle Pacific University is a place where people learn. Although graduation and diplomas are goals of every student, there is more than just the pragmatic. Who is to say that it is simply learning when really, it is living and learning.
More than a major, more than a discipline, students learn beyond the classroom. Programs, clubs and events define SPU’s community and its values. They are pivotal. Yet, as we enter the last quarter of the first year back in-person, it seems that the university has not recovered from the pandemic.
Caenisha Warren, Executive Director and Minister of Reconciliation Ministries, found that programs and clubs have suffered losses in membership and involvement.
“We used to be highly engaged, a lot of activities and events happening, and that’s what you expect out of your college experience,” said Warren. “Not having those with the year of COVID up to the same caliber and capacity as it has been in the past, it means that a lot of the general students may not be aware of opportunities.”
It devastates many of the faculty and staff, even the students, to witness the hard reset of COVID-19. But while there is some lament in what people may have lost, there is also potential.
Chuck Strawn, Dean of Students for Community Life, sees value in change.
“The nostalgia piece is good and powerful, and that’s something we want to learn from and lean into, but at the same time, let us also remember that we were having some really important conversations as a campus,” said Strawn. “I don’t want to get back to the way things were, but I want to get back to the way things were.”
Leadership is key to shaping the malleable form of SPU’s current culture. Individuals will be the ones to set the tone in a circumstance where it is much easier to be the bigger fish in a smaller pond. The Office of Student Involvement and Leadership (OSIL), the John Perkins Center (JPC) student-led clubs and other opportunities are places where change will happen and thus proliferate.
Jala Harper is a campus program coordinator for OSIL, which helps facilitate groups such as Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP), the Collegium, the Outdoor Recreation Program (ORP), Senate, the Student Leadership Development Committee (SLDC), the Student Union Board (STUB) and other student clubs.
“As for now, we have a lot of student leadership positions open, the current state is apply! Apply! Apply!” exclaimed Harper.
Harper believes that without student leaders, SPU cannot be the place students want it to be.
“Student ownership is super important, and for it to be a community you own, want, and want to be a part of, for it to be fun, and unique to your needs, we need student leaders,” said Harper.
So if the opportunities are present, and SPU is currently extremely vulnerable to change, student leadership has all the more agency. Quite literally, students pay to be here, and their investment in their learning means that they have many opportunities to shape the outcome for both themselves and others.
“It’s important at this moment to get those folks who are creatively dissatisfied—no, what’s the phrase from Dr. King? Creatively maladjusted!” said Strawn. “They want to adjust; they want something new and different and exciting, building in ways that are more inclusive of who we are and who we will be in the future.”
Harper encourages students to be the answer to the problems they recognize.
“I would like to challenge that, if there are students who are like, ‘Aw, I wouldn’t want to go to that,’ or ‘Whatever,’ these are the perfect opportunities to apply for these student leadership positions so that you can say what you want and like,” said Harper. “Help us create things that people would want to come to.”
But to talk about student leadership is much different than knowing a student leader.
Second year physiology major Bella Camarillo is a current SLDC programmer and was recently elected as the ASSP Vice President of Intercultural Affairs. Camarillo understands that the experience is both an investment towards her future and her passions.
“For me, I resonate my leadership positions with what I want to do in the future,” said Camarillo. “I want to train doctors as a physician, and that’s why I am building my leadership experience now in college.”
Camarillo started somewhere, and her decision started with the decision to take risks and pursue opportunities. Being the beginning of change can feel daunting, but leaning into the discomfort might be part of the journey.
“Yes, it is scary, but if you apply to it and have the passion to learn, you will learn in that position and if you don’t have the experience, you will get that experience. Once you have that, it will only open more and more doors for you,”said Camarillo. “With COVID, everyone is new. We have no returning leaders, so if that’s what’s scaring you, it shouldn’t be…because everyone’s new, and everyone doesn’t know everything. We’re all learning together.”