Updated: May 1, 2020
Student Council is a popular medium through which students are able to engage in meaningful leadership and service activities. The student-led organisation has become synonymous with creative initiatives, fulfilling experiences, and value-adding skills development. Oftentimes, Student Councils are in charge of facilitating discussion between the general student body, with school management and with fellow leaders. However, they also aim to host enjoyable events for the school populace, and encourage a sense of school spirit and a feeling of belonging amongst all stakeholders - from teachers to students, to the cleaners and security guards. Yet, one High Schooler’s story is one that may often be hard to come across. Seungbin Kang's (Stamford American International School ‘21) story is one of such nature. Read more below to find out why!
Prior to his term in leadership, the respect associated with the Student Council had crumbled, to the extent that a mention of the organization itself had a negative connotation attached to it. Seungbin employed effective and strategic planning combined with a philosophy of commitment and engagement of the student community to essentially revitalize a broken sense of school spirit. While Seungbin is often quite busy with a plethora of extracurriculars, he was willing to be interviewed in order to explain his mannerism and plenty of other various insights he had to share. Seungbin has an interest in pursuing Medicine for his further studies, to which the link can be seen given his numerous service-related commitments.
Seungbin’s humble beginnings:
To Seungbin, “the Student Council is an opportunity to engage and lead the students at large; knowing their hardships and implementing solutions and policies to alleviate them.” He also believes that the Student Council must lead the organization of events to facilitate school spirit and bonding amongst the student body. “We are the voice of the students, and as elected officials, we are to represent the students in affairs which threaten their rights and benefits, and to promote their wellbeing and endeavours.” In 2018, Seungbin first ran for office. Being an aspiring leader, to him, it was simply for the sake of ‘trying it out’. While he was unsuccessful in his first attempt, this experience thrusted him to the forefront of understanding the issues within the school, and enabled him to realize that “we have a greater purpose within ourselves”. In his second run in 2019, he was able to view the council from another perspective, but also deemed that the students themselves saw it differently. According to Seungbin, “Students are cynical of what's going on within, and neither approve nor support the council. Students are aware that they are getting ripped off, they are aware that the council is truly not the spirit of our school, and that to truly go against the status quo, there needs to be change.” As a result of realizing this, he ran a campaign of change, to promise the student body that there would be better days ahead, and that he would fight as hard as he could for the interests of the students. Through a wave of support, Seungbin was able to secure his position as the Student Activities Director for the following academic year.
Setting the Student Council right with empathy:
Upon his entrance into the council, he saw that the main goal of the executives had been to make small changes in policy in order to solve a large majority of problems. As a student, he had taken note that year after year of negligence had not done anything to indicate any sign of change. Yet, he knew for certain that there were fellow students out there who denied that the status quo should be the path to follow. He knew that there were those that strived for change. As he described, “To see that there are other like minded people was something that drove me forwards”. He soon discovered and was struck with awe at how as a school, students were continuously breeding a spirit of toxicity year after year. “We speak eloquent speeches, pump our chests, and proclaim that we are against xenophobia, discrimination, and state the simple concept that all students have a place within the school - however that certainly isn’t the case”. As part of developing and establishing his ideals at school, he goes around and talks to students regarding their opinions of not only the council, but a cumulative opinion on the school. He has seen times where students are made fun of due to a medical condition, he has seen times where students are made fun of due to their choice of clothing, and hopes to establish a bond between those who are impacted through engaging in discourse - this of course puts a responsibility on his shoulders to speak on their behalf. He hopes that one day, he can foster a spirit of encouraging one another, encouraging student clubs, encouraging the endeavours of the students. This is a goal and policy that he will continuously fight for - to enable the students.
His role in the student community:
As the Student Activities Director of the Student Council, he is tasked with ideating events for students to participate in throughout the course of the year. Some events that he has planned out alongside his Activities counterpart Sofia Evangelista, are the various quarterly Spirit Weeks, Stamford’s first ever Homecoming, the Halloween Costume Contest, and Valentine’s Day Candy Grams. He could often be seen attending meetings with school administration to present drafts of event plans. He would also lead multiple student bodies such as the Athletics Council and Arts Society to bring to life activities which would appeal to the masses. He would additionally liaise with external bodies such as (most recently), Food from the Heart Singapore, to hold successful fundraising and ‘giving back’ events. What he noticed over his tenure is that activities are not truly what encapsulate the wants of the students. “We cannot just constantly pour money into events which are attended by the minority, forget about the majority and call that ‘success’. I go beyond my duties to shape the council’s policies, such as collecting student feedback, a larger input of opinions, and generally engage in more interactions with the students. We host more frequent ambassador meetings, providing the opportunity of substantial content to not only be told to advisories, but also to collect back information about our progress in appealing to the students. We gave the students a larger voice, and they truly used it efficiently.” Specific to this year, Seungbin established a “House Council” in order to better pitch the house system to students and garner a wider variety of perspectives. This proved to be effective when having to navigate through planning various house related events in conjunction with Student Council gatherings.
Inheriting skills from a plethora of experiences:
Prior to STUCO, Seungbin was a part of numerous student led organizations, which all shaped his ideals and gave him the skills that he is not only grateful for, but is able to employ into his role as the Student Activities Director. As he eloquently puts it:
“ServICE taught me empathy and respect across multiple schools
Model United Nations taught me to maintain tenacity, commitment, and perseverance in even the most difficult situations
Habitat for Humanity showed me purpose and guidance
Lions Tuition taught me patience and communication”
When looking to revitalize the school spirit (one of which was an arduous task), he was able to shape his mind in the right direction through the use of the aforementioned skills. Years of toxicity and continued failure do not simply wither away in the span of a year. He mentioned that his perseverance came into play in ensuring that he didn’t fall just from that. Leading a group of hopeful students to discuss matters of ‘how’ and ‘why’ required clear and adequate communication. To know the plights and the perspectives of the general student body regarding the status quo, was to tap into the concepts of empathy and respect. Time spent focusing on the process drew upon sacrifice and resilience, with the incremental progress throughout the year showing the fruits of patience and commitment. To carry on and pursue a process which is slow yet rewarding, is the direct manifestation of a sense of purpose.
Seungbin’s advice to those wishing to pursue leadership positions:
The first time is always the hardest. That is a fact, and I saw it in myself and many others. However, we must keep in mind that there are always people there to help you - whether it be your parents, teachers, friends, or even I myself. This difficulty is often overshadowed by the possibilities that lie beyond. From new friendships being formed, skills learnt, or even the failure of attaining the position. Running for it teaches you many lessons which will greatly benefit you regardless of the outcome.
We could list out our beloved IB learner profiles, generic ‘skills’, and much more, but what it really boils down to is purpose. What is your purpose to run? Purpose, whether it be to empower the students, or a willingness to learn, willingness to fall down and make mistakes to stand right back up stronger. Purpose is what shapes the best candidate, however there is no one ‘good’ purpose. As humans, we are all unique in our own bubbles, where one’s definition of ‘good’ may differ from another. However, if there is something that motivates you to speak up, if there is something that you find unjust, chances are that there are others who feel the same way as well. To speak up for them, you are a leader by your own rights, and that will be what propels you towards success.
When campaigning for a position, I personally find it better to speak on my own strengths and what I can offer to the table as opposed to criticizing others. Amplify your strengths and apply them to the context of what students and you yourself want. Engage the students and show them that you are the best candidate for whatever position you are striving for. Get them to know you, connect your story to the bigger picture and the ideas that you aim to foster in the school. Guide them through a journey in which they will walk alongside you to the promises. The more you interact with the human element of people, the more you will influence their perception in regards to voting. That absolutely does not mean that you should exploit this element. To be in an elected position is an agreement to do everything within your power to fight for what you initially promised. You have to show the students and make them believe that you fought as hard as possible for what they believed in, and regardless of the hardships, will come out as a victor in your own rights and in the eyes of those who support you.
Pointers from a fellow Student Council Executive to another in terms of solving typical problems:
To synthesize everything into a central theme, I believe that the understanding of empathy plays an integral role in the issue of a lack of school spirit.
What we see is that when hierarchies of governance fail to incorporate an element of empathy in their policies or actions, they grow toxic and dysfunctional. These hierarchies become the existing source of competition and anxiety rather than the wellsprings of guidance and support that the hierarchies could potentially be founded on. Internal conflicts and disputes, strife and a lack of overall understanding marginalize us based on our differences, and de-emphasize our similarities. Many times we see that we are surrendering ourselves along cursory lines of race, religion, skin colour, gender, sexuality, and so forth. Familial politics seem to take precedence over a democratic decision. Apply that beyond a council, beyond a classroom, but the concept of an entire school, and that is what illustrates the major issue we face as leaders.
When institutions and groups are passed down to the next generation of student leaders, we need them to treat empathy and respect seriously. Through empathising with one another in the scale factor of the entire school, we nurture a spirit of respecting one another, creating an environment that can be described as what every single parent wants a school to be - safe. From there, appreciation of student led initiatives, appreciation of school based initiatives, and a whole boatload of possibilities spring up when students are aware of basic fundamentals which go beyond simple labels. It all starts with one person, then becomes two, then four, and spreading this idea of respecting one another grows exponentially. In the case of the House system, day after day, administration after administration, there was no contact with the House leaders. There was no instance of student initiated support, there were no down to earth conversations with fellow students without feeling a sense of moral superiority. How can we expect something like this to foster and revitalize a community?
The case can be made that this failed model of exerting toxicity and passing it down generation by generation spoiled the promise which Stamford’s leaders set out to champion, but it takes one person to start to reverse it, and that is what I am doing. With every passing week, I see more appreciation of old sentiments and values - surveys indicated so, personal one to one chats with regular students showed so, and even members of the council are now invested in an effort which many years ago, seemed to be a mere afterthought.
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler
In order to gather a community of individuals and nurture them, you must venture beyond the walls of your own thoughts and feelings, and learn to explore those of another. Seungbin has truly espoused and advocated for this change in mentality. It’s not about your experience or your intellect, but about your character, perseverance, and championing a philosophy of empathy and understanding in order to foster a culture and community.
Should you have any further questions or inquiries, you may reach out to Seungbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or direct message him on Instagram: @thefineartoflife. This article was written by Akhil Venkatesh in April of 2020 as part of the Student Alliance’s Student Stories. You may find more information about the issue on our website www.thestudentalliance.org and Instagram page @thestudentalliance. Thanks for reading!