About a week ago, I was in a discussion focusing on what made UF alumni special. I learned that several companies specifically seek out our alumni above all others, but I never learned why.
Certainly, we come from a distinguished institution, but many others do as well. As we talked, the group consensus was UF cultivates leadership in a way that few other schools manage to do. Our involvement culture spurs budding leaders to reach their fullest potential. In my opinion, there is a lot of truth to this. This campus does offer a staggering amount of involvement opportunities and leadership roles, but I would urge caution in promoting involvement as a part of our campus brand. From what I’ve seen, this involvement culture can hurt just as much as it helps.
While investigating this topic, I reached out to friends to ask how they viewed involvement culture and what their personal experiences with it were like. What I learned from these conversations was that UF’s culture often invokes a pressure on students — a pressure to not only to succeed but to do so through involvement.
Are you in Cicerones? What leadership roles do you hold? Are you in a “Big 9” club?
Overall, this kind of motivation isn’t inherently bad. If you’re the kind of student who showed up on campus on day one ready to dive into anything and everything, this social pressure was probably a great source of encouragement to drive you forward. The problem is that, for some, this pressure can be a hindrance in finding their footing as leaders.
From my conversations, I gathered that the negative consequences of involvement culture will usually show themselves in two ways. The first is a student will push themselves to get involved in as many things as possible and end up overextending themselves. The second is that a student might be unable to get as involved as their peers, resulting in feelings of inadequacy. I have seen this a few times, and it sucks because it promotes unhealthy comparisons rather than working toward self-actualization.
If you step back and think about the goal of involvement, what is it? Overall, I think it should be personal and professional growth. I think that too often involvement culture encourages involvement for the sake of living up to a social standard rather than fulfilling personal ambitions.
At UF there are great ways to participate in the community and leave your mark, and they come in various shapes and sizes. From early on, you’ll see many examples of what this could look like through Student Body presidents or leaders of huge organizations, and it can seem daunting. But whether you’re involved in twenty organizations or one, as long as you’re on track to self-fulfillment, you are as much of a success as anyone else. The goal with involvement should be quality over quantity, and quality doesn’t always mean well-known.
Following in another’s footsteps might not let you see the paths best suited to you.
Matthew Diaz is the Hispanic Caucus leader in UF Student Government Senate