Leadership Requires Staying True to Both Voters and Personal Principles

Dear Littles and Germinates,

I was in the Round Table courtyard last spring when they announced the winners of the A.S. elections. I remember watching many faces light up with the Aurora Borealis of the victor, or freeze into the sporting grin of the also-ran. I remember the indrawn breath, and the ripples of applause, and the handshakes. I remember Doc Khaleghi’s near aneurysm after his upset presidential victory. I remember Eugene Mahmoud’s solemn triumph, as he accepted the post of Vice President External with his head bowed and his arms raised high. Most of all, I remember Cassandra Williams’ shriek of joy, and her explosion of physical activity. I swear she jumped high enough to see right into the third-floor office that had just become hers. She landed spinning, thanking and hugging every one in arms’ reach.

Forget that new Triton mascot. Who knew that the Tasmanian She-Devil went to our school? And whose bright idea was it to put her in charge of all A.S. events as our commissioner of programming? And who knew she would do so good a job? And how could we let her quit?

If you missed last week’s A.S. Council Meeting — and most of you did — let me fill you in. I’ll start by giving you an idea of what A.S. Council meetings are like: lots of odd references and comments that might be inside jokes or absurd blather, with a few traces of phrases suggesting insight.

You squint and peer through the bureaucratic murk of meaning, and suddenly, ahh, there! A sudden fountainhead erupts from the spry woman at the microphone: Williams says she cannot continue in her post due to irreconcilable conflicts between the realpolitik of A.S. events planning and the dictates of her religion and morality and conscience.

In her own words: “”Officially resigning the position of programmer, I feel obliged to tell you the reasons for this decision. Since before I ran for this position, my family warned me that I would be alarmed about some of the things I saw and that I would either have to compromise my morals or compromise my duties to the office. Of course, I didn’t listen and I took the position.””

“”From the beginning, I was shown some of the darker sides of life. Many people in the industry have tried to sue me, breached contracts with me, harassed and abused me and my friends. This may seem as though I want to live in a bubble of purity, and honestly, I hope it does look that way. You may feel that this is stupid, but Fall Fest was the first time that I was ever exposed to marijuana while I was backstage.

“”For months I have been having many personal conflicts between my job and my moral standards. As my mom warned me, one or the other would have to go. Even though I was a proponent of Club Ritmo, and I still hope that the students will enjoy weekend entertainment, I have many issues with the fact that alcohol is served at Porter’s Pub during the club’s operation. I’ve just been struggling for so long, and it has definitely resulted in me not desiring to go to my office, to have anything to do with programming at all.””

Lord Acton wrote that power tends to corrupt, but said nothing about how power tends to cling. Nobody likes leaving a job half finished, especially when it means giving up a significant amount of authority, extra-especially when that authority comes hand-in-hand with responsibilities to people who voted for you over somebody else. Holding power and staying uncorrupted pales in comparison to the challenge of letting go of the reins when the time comes.

Williams faced both these challenges and prevailed. Don’t take it from me alone! Read what Matt Powell, our vice president of finance, had to say: “”A.S. is probably one of the most conflicted groups on campus. Members of A.S. regularly face the trial of living out their values in a system with political jockeying and duplicity. Some of the positions even force people into value judgments they never would have anticipated when running. Williams’ decision to step down was one of the best ways of dealing with this conflict that I have ever seen. This campus could use more leaders like Williams who are willing to stand firm in their convictions. Perhaps if more people were as strong as Williams, the support could have been there to actually change circumstances and prevent the loss of a great member of Associated Students. As it is, she has chosen the path that should command the respect of those who voted for her last spring.””

Some of you gossip-mongers may now be slathering for more details. You won’t get them from me. Go and seek her out, if you need to know Williams’ exact denomination, actual experiences or other particulars.

I don’t think it’s any of our business. She made a statement of personal principles, standing firm on her own two feet, and it is this act that earns her my respect, admiration and praise.

It’s not that I agree with her about the dangers of drug use. I’m not even sure that I do. Williams inspires me by her demonstrated willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of her principles. We all need a moral compass … we also all need to know how to follow it.

Some attest that here at UCSD we stroll daily through a playground of sin. Maybe you don’t prescribe to such a concept, and maybe I don’t either, but the fact remains that ours is a community rifled with lax morality.

When was the last time you stood up in a group and said “”I have no power to stop you, but I believe that act is wrong?”” When was the last time you witnessed a wrong, be it a tipsy drive to the store and back, a racist or sexist joke, or the kid next to you cheating off your exam, and took that leap of self confidence necessary to express your disapproval? Too many times I have looked the other way, knowing that this is San Diego, and nobody likes a fuss down here.

None of us approves of apathy, none of us accepts the foolish notion that because this is the south (just as much as Texas) things are different here.

And yet we do not stand up for our beliefs. To stand against the silent crowd of so many other unvoiced opinions requires a strength and purity of inner vision, a clarity that is hard to come by amid the collegiate chaos.

Rabbi Lisa Goldstein, one of our campus ministers, notes another challenge students face. “”College years have such potential; often for the first time in their lives students are deeply confronted with different values systems and new ways of seeing the world. They have the opportunity to test the systems of morality in which they were raised and make decisions about the directions for their life paths. Whether those decisions are informed by thoughtful reflection or by peer pressure often depends on the individual’s level of awareness.””

If there’s anything you have learned from our recently resigned A.S. programming commissioner, it should be that we cannot underestimate the importance of awareness and clarity. Lacking them, you run in circles around yourself. Possessing them, you can match thought to deed and thus free (or save) your soul. Williams found them and took action. And so she is my hero.

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