In fact, on our campus they already had. The Black Student Association had already planned to meet the evening after the vandalism to discuss the reemergence of hate crimes and how they might mobilize to address them. Several other student organizations, independent students, and faculty joined them. As a result of that meeting, the student body created three demands to present to university administrators to address their concerns and to voice their outrage at the message that had been painted.
The following day, the students marched to the board of trustees meeting for a silent protest and to share the demands they had come up with. That demand was important to them because there had been previous issues with campus crime alerts that repeatedly listed generic descriptions of Black men and as such, created an uncomfortable environment for Black students.
Their rationale was, since the university was so committed to keeping our community notified of crime, they wanted the vandalism documented as a hate crime, and the campus alerted. The first hate crime alert was released with information about the vandalism of the Black Cultural Center and included the Clery Act definition of a hate crime. In addition, the university also announced that a task force would be convened to gather information to learn more about the student demands and how they might meet them.
The majority of students involved in the demonstration were pleased with the outcomes and hopeful for what the future might bring. A few days later a handful of students approached me, concerned about the events that had transpired. After speaking with them I learned that they were not included in a meaningful way in the organizing and mobilizing around the vandalism of the Black Cultural Center and the consequent strategizing and response. In their view, they were not included or respected within activist spaces as a result of their queer identities and other personal politics.
One student in particular spoke passionately to tell me how frustrated she was that no one could see that as for the first demand, the crime was in the vandalism of the building, and not necessarily in the message. She wanted to know how they could get people to understand the issue the way she had. I told her I would help, because I am always happy that students are fighting for the things that matter to them, but I never want them swinging in the dark.
They were budding bridge leaders. Those passionate students spent the next several weeks planning events and working with leaders of the more visible movement to mobilize around their issues and concerns and to keep them motivated toward creating a more inclusive campus. The first idea they had was to offer a series of dialogue programs to address the subtle differences between their perceived victory through the hate crime alert. They offered a dialogue that I was asked to facilitate that helped students explore the differences between free speech, hate speech, and a hate crime. I also challenged them to think about the types of interventions that get at the root of campus culture and climate, I asked them to consider what type of resources and work would be required to achieve them.
These students were not considered formal leaders within that campus movement. However, they were still passionate about the work and seeing it furthered in our community. They modeled the complexity of holding multiple truths by critiquing the larger and more visible movement and its leaders, while not tearing down their work. These leaders were not part of the larger movement work, but they were tangential to it, moving in and out working as operatives between the grassroots community, the formal leaders of the movement, and working with staff and administrators, like me.
They were bridge leaders operating in the synapses to do the important but sometimes invisible work needed toward campus change. During the Spring semester, I Stephen cotaught an intergroup dialogue in higher education course for master's students in the Student Affairs in Higher Education Program at Miami University. The purpose of this class was for students to develop their facilitation skills in order to engage people in structured dialogues about privilege, power, and oppression.
When students violate the policy on the first two occurrences, they meet with staff in the Division of Student Affairs to discuss their actions and consider the impact of them on those in the surrounding community. One missing link has been the extent to which undergraduate students understand the impact of their actions on Oxford residents. As a result, I invited students in my intergroup dialogue class to facilitate in pairs a dialogue between undergraduate students who have violated the policy and Oxford residents. The goal was for graduate students in the class to use their burgeoning dialogue facilitation skills to engage undergraduate students and residents in understanding their unique needs.
At the conclusion of the dialogue, a number of the undergraduate students indicated that they had never considered the impact of their actions, how their white male privilege played a role in their lack of awareness, and that it was the first time they had engaged in dialogue with Oxford residents.
The Oxford residents also appreciated the opportunity to share their perspectives, listen to the students, and work to develop new understanding. The master's students in my class acted as bridge leaders in their facilitation. What I most appreciated about their actions was that they were not traditional notions of activism. Because they did not hold formal authority or power in their capacities as students in the class, they were able to bridge multiple roles student, facilitator, negotiator, listener, convener in an effort to foster understanding between the two parties.
Following the dialogue, they shared their insights with the creators and sustainers of the policy, furthering their bridge leadership. Several students in the class also hold minoritized identities, and they commented on the power and ownership they felt in being able to share their expertise with people holding formal power e. As bridge leaders, they were more bound to the desires of their constituencies i. This enabled them to use more nontraditional approaches, like dialogue, to facilitate change on campus and within the Oxford community.
The University of Missouri experienced significant campus demonstrations related to a hostile racial climate on their campus that faculty and administrators did not address for too long. Tensions were extremely high on campus and as a result of their movement, students on other campuses across the country began to demonstrate as a show of solidarity and to hold their institutions accountable, including my TJ own. Students shared their experiences from the classroom, the residence halls, and simply walking down the street on campus and how they were subjected to negative experiences related to their racial identities.
Once there, students read poems, and orated speeches that recounted their commitment to holding the university community accountable for the ways it perpetuated and maintained a culture of racism. One of the organizers spoke about the student activist movements on campus a few years earlier, related to the vandalism of the Black Cultural Center.
They spoke about the power they each held to make a difference on campus, a power they wanted to harness once again to make the administration of the institution pay attention and respond in material ways to their issues and concerns. At that moment, they instructed nearly student supporters to sit down on the floor and refuse to move until administrators heard their demands.
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Their decision not to share that information was likely due to their desire to disallow the administration to anticipate their demonstration, and as such, avoid administrators shutting down their efforts. They hijacked their own movement. Faculty, staff, and administrators had been present all day as a form of support, and as such, connected with the leaders of the demonstration almost immediately.
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Organizers also used social media to share videos, photos, and updates of what was happening as a way to publicly hold university administrators accountable. At nearly a. Around that time, student affairs administrators received contact by other invested students about the events that had taken place. Some of those students were part of formal student organizations, and some were simply students who had an investment in the community. In either case, they believed those designated leaders did not speak for them, their experiences, or their wishes for campus.
I spent some time with some of these students to hear their concerns and encouraged them to engage with the seemingly formal leaders to share their opinions and to determine how they might work together. It seemed the students who voiced concerns about the surprise actions of formal movement leaders had a better hold on the pulse of the community and its constituents. They knew what would have been of interest to the nearly students present. These were bridge leaders because they were more closely bound to the wishes and desires of the group and because they were not formal leaders of the events that brought everyone together.
After some time, and getting nowhere, one of these students asked to speak with university administrators directly to share their concerns. I worked to support that student to get the time and space to speak to all of us. Several administrators present were hesitant initially because they could not understand how this student, who had not participated in conversations all day, wanted to speak with them about the evening's activities. I assured them he had something critical to say to us, if we would only listen. They agreed, and he told us how disappointed he was with how the events transpired.
His intention was not to let the university off the proverbial hook, but rather, ensure that when they took us to task, it would be in a way that spoke to the views of the community in a more meaningful, holistic, and accurate ways. After that student departed, he and other students, some of whom were affiliated with organizations, launched their own campaign on social media questioning the organizers of those events and asking why they had not included other organizations and students.
They went further to ask why they represented their concerns as community concerns as opposed to their own personal desires for the movement. These students were not simply being adversarial; rather, they were creating space for other voices, types of leadership, and thoughtfulness in their campus movements. In keeping with bridge leadership, these students seemed to be more closely bound to the wishes and the desires of the constituents, and in their view, held accountable the formal leaders of those events.
What developed in the coming weeks was an opportunity for all of various individuals and groups to discuss together an agenda and path forward—a path that was inclusive, thoughtful, and considerate of the voices of many. Our three stories illustrate the significance of bridge leaders. These activists fill in the gaps, work behind the scenes, and are out in front when necessary. Because they are tied to the people for whom they are advocating and not the institution, they can freely move, engage, and disrupt in ways that sometimes formal leaders are unable to do.
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Consequently, their realities as bridge leaders also mean they run the risk of being ignored or erased inside and outside of the movement. Previous models of leadership often place the people in positional roles as leaders. Activism that is bolder and more disruptive, as well as the students who lead that work, is just as important as the students who serve in support roles, move in and out of movements, and hold nonpositional leadership roles.
It is no coincidence that these activists hold minoritized identities, and thus, are fighting for their livelihood.
Reframing who educators see as a leader and thus, valuable, needs to change. Another important implication from these narratives is that educators must be acutely aware of the ways that power and dominance might be reproduced in activist leadership spaces. In two of the stories shared above, students were excluded from formal leadership of campus movements. They perceived that exclusion was due to certain social identities i. Similarly to Robnett's conceptualization of Bridge Leadership, educators must ensure they spend adequate energy to interrogate who and what might be missing from any given activist demonstration or leadership moment.
Often, administrators are tasked to address the students or demonstrations that garner the most attention at any given moment; however, they must include an examination of who bridge leaders are, who often are working in the background. Administrators can support bridge leadership in a few different ways; first, it is important to take a critical examination of what is happening in any given activism movement or moment.
Who is present? Who is missing? Why might that be? Considering these questions as a start will help uncover a deeper meaning about what is happening on campus and allow them to consider where to focus their support and attention.
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To achieve this will involve some level of trust as students may be hesitant to invite administrators into their spaces, given administrators can sometimes be considered agents to an institution. If welcomed into their space, one might be able to suggest opportunities for those who do not desire formal roles or help connect students looking for community within a movement or to movement leaders and cultivators. This presentation highlights the methods for beginning a partnership, including ideas like the creation of a service-learning liaison, a LibGuide, developing a service-learning collection, and connecting faculty to service-learning research in their specific fields.