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Students and staff co-create a culture shift on campus

Leadership training at Concordia has social impact and resumé power
September 14, 2016
By J. Latimer


Julia Sutera Sardo and Marc Da Silva from the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) are helping to usher in a broad culture change for Orientation/Frosh at Concordia.

At the same time, they’re working hard to put a more human face on their federation’s student executive.

“ASFA is turning a corner, raising awareness so people know who we are. We’re also being present, inclusive and transparent,” says internal affairs and administrative coordinator Sutera Sardo, a second-year political science and public affairs student.

“The idea is to make sure we address issues of sexism, bullying, racism, sexual harassment and violence, with the consequence of spreading positivity within the Concordia community — not just within ASFA.”

ASFA’s 18,000 student members make them the largest unit inside the Concordia Student Union. Sutera Sardo, who was once bullied herself, credits the Dean of Students Office for their help shifting the Orientation/Frosh culture, as well as bridging communications with the federation’s 31 associations.

“The Dean of Students Office supported us through the transition, as we took over from last year’s executive, by teaching us the administrative procedures and even providing emotional support,” says Sutera Sardo.

Marc Da Silva, ASFA’s social events coordinator, adds that their current focus is on prevention, through consent awareness, bystander intervention and making safe spaces for student events. He also wants to ensure students know what ASFA can do for them.

“Our member associations have access to great resources, like workshops on power dynamics, conflict management and leadership strategies,” says Da Silva, a fourth-year student pursuing an Arts and Science certificate.

Fostering a ‘goodwill relationship’

Like many students, Da Silva and Sutera Sardo are keen to lead a life that has social impact. Working collaboratively, the Dean of Students Office and student association leaders have established a framework to co-create change.

Helen Downie is the student engagement facilitator in the Dean of Students Office. She says that part of their vision is to build agency. “When we’re with the student executives, we model the kind of behaviour and organizational style that we’d like to see in them — collaborative, reciprocal, low-judgement, high-trust and inclusive.”

Staff from the Dean of Students Office identified the culture around orientation and frosh as a target for change a few years ago. They initiated a series of casual off-site meetings with student leaders — referred to as the “The Burritoville Diaries” — to facilitate conversation around the issues, but they faced a barrier to realizing impact. 

Prior to the meetings, every new group of incoming student leaders needed to learn from scratch. Any ground they gained was lost by the next year. That’s been changing at a rapid pace because outgoing and incoming students now work together to facilitate a smooth transition.

“Now, we have a goodwill relationship in which the outgoing student executive passes on the culture change and co-creation approach to the incoming leaders,” says Terry Kyle, manager of student life in the Dean of Students Office.

“Orientation/Frosh leaders see themselves as responsible for knowing university protocols, for reducing risk at events and for making events more inclusive and less alcohol-centred.”

‘Deeply meaningful impact’

Andrew Woodall, dean of students, notes a dramatic change in the relationship between student leaders and university stakeholders.

“Increasingly, we see students taking responsibility for their actions and events, and therefore their role as leaders. This, of course, is no surprise because they are amazing people,” he says.

“They actually sit down and talk with Hospitality and Security now, and with us, to figure out the best way to handle events.”

Valérie Bolduc, event analyst with Concordia’s Security Department, concurs. She says collaboration between student leaders and security has been phenomenal and thinks both sides appreciate the new approach. 

“Our staff is getting in early and supporting students, both at the planning stages and on-site, to ensure that their events go off without any headaches by working out and identifying potential situations before they happen.”  Orientation is just one opportunity the Dean of Students Office has to develop leadership skills in students while co-creating change. The Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) offers student groups access to training about bystander intervention.

Meanwhile, the Safe Serve Program (SSP) educates servers on how to reduce alcohol-related dangers. In this way, both SARC and the SSP support efforts to change the culture of Orientation/Frosh.

“When students see the impact they can have, it’s deeply meaningful for them,” says Kyle. “They’re proud when they’ve intervened to improve an event and they come tell us about it.”

‘Experiential learning puts students ahead of the game’

Another positive consequence of this work is the development of skills that prospective employers appreciate.

Leadership experiences on campus often build an appetite for activism and a drive to facilitate further impact. Today’s job market is retooling to accommodate the millennial generation’s desire to participate in social enterprise and make a difference through actionable change.

Those employers, in turn, value the collaborative leadership skills students cultivate at school.

“Prospective employers are well aware of what student leaders learn along the way,” says Robert Taliano, interim manager at Career and Planning Services, part of Concordia's Student Success Centre.

“An on-campus leader can develop many skills to one day be a more effective manager in engineering, business, community work or almost every career domain. The workforce is so collaborative these days. Our student leaders gain experiential learning that puts them ahead of the game.”

Learn more about the programs at the 
Dean of Students Office.


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