Creating change within an institution

by Troy Xu

How can students navigate the policies and red-tape of university environments? How can social changemakers recruit members and allies who are truly passionate about their project? How can college campuses facilitate successful social entrepreneurship? These are the questions that Kristin Hagen, who has worked closely with student social change projects, sought to tackle in her workshop, “Creating Change within an Institution.”

As Coordinator for Educational Programs and Campus Events at DePaul University, Hagen serves as an adviser and administrative liaison for DePaul’s student organizations. She began by asking the delegates why they chose to attend her workshop. This line of questioning — “why?” — would recur throughout.

Without further adieu, she launched straight into presenting actionable items. According to Hagen, a university has four distinct realms: academics, student affairs, facility operations, and students. All of which, are important for student changemakers to have connections in. Academics — faculty and staff — can provide scholarly research and advice, student affairs administrators can help publicize events, facility operations can supply meeting spaces, and students, of course, comprise a student movement.

To illustrate the importance of university support for any social change movement, Hagen presented the anecdote of Alex, a student at DePaul. Alex wanted to start an organization to help people register to vote, and learn about candidates. However, she missed the deadline for student organization registration. As a result, Alex’s organization was denied access to beneficial perks, such as DePaul’s student organization fair and university funding. Unfortunately, without university support, it became much more difficult to get her project up and running.     

The rest of Hagen’s workshop dealt with the concept of asking “why.” Her idea, adapted from Start With Why by Simon Sinek, is that questioning the purpose of actions leads to growth and the potential acquisition of passionate team members and allies. She had the delegates pair up, and answer the question, “Why is your project important to you?”    

Hagen elaborated on the uses of “why,” describing the reasoning behind the importance of it being at the forefront of communication strategy. When talking to administration, think about why the administration should support you. When trying to recruit students for a project, think about why they should join, and ask them why they want to join. When giving an elevator pitch, that “what” and the “how” are important, but explaining the motives behind a project can be even more powerful.

Overall, this workshop, with its focus on such a buzzword, was quite satisfying for the delegates. “I really enjoyed discussing ‘why,’” said Jairi Sanchez, a delegate from Los Angeles. “Especially how it can be used for so many purposes.”