Navigating Systems without GPS | UVA Student Council

As a leader, member of an organization, student, or human being in general we all function within several complex, infuriating, and wonderful systems. You can see some of these systems – you understand them, function within them, and may even control them to an extent. As a student at a university, you have successfully navigated one that 93.3% of the world’s population could not. You have churned through the educational system for the last 12 or so years and successfully got into a pretty great school. Which is friggin’ amazing given the literally COUNTLESS micro (family support) and macro (governmental policies on tuition), avoidable (sleeping through your AP classes) and less avoidable (sleeping through your AP classes because your single parent has a substance use problem and you had to spend the night awake taking care of your little sister because said parent was in no state to treat her fever), environmental (the quality of schools in your area) and inherent (the IQ of your mother and father who decided to reproduce and make you thus impacting your intellectual capabilities) factors that could have derailed your chances of attending Tommy J’s wonderful institution. It’s pretty mind-bogglin’.

There’s me! (the little brown girl – bottom left with the circle around her!) In my next life I may become a systems engineer rather than a psychologist. Love this stuff.

Moreover, the more you progress through the complex system we call higher education in the United States the more you get to see how, well, the sausage is made. The more prestige/expertise you accumulate through your involvements, internships, relationships, and degrees – the more closed systems with formerly closed doors will open to you. You have the opportunity to participate in discussions and make decisions with wide-reaching and meaningful results. Student self-governance isn’t just a tenant the University started spouting because they thought it sounded pretty cool — it’s an integral part of a philosophical belief that: a) the University of Virginia will produce individuals who are leaders in their fields, b) these leaders will be charged with decisions that have significant implications for individuals, communities, and society as a whole, and c) therefore, the university experience should provide active, experiential opportunities for young people to practice these skills and develop their abilities to function as more thoughtful, wise, experienced leaders. Student self-governance is about learning how to do that well, efficiently, and thoughtfully.  It’s a lot to take on.

Mr. Jefferson and I don’t agree on everything (namely that he presumably kept his own children enslaved), but I think he’s on to something here.

As a member of Student Council I feel privileged to participate in a small system within a larger one.  While I often find myself skipping through the clouds following philosophical trains of thought like the ones above, I try to always remain conscious of the real, daily, practical necessities of this position and how to open up the systems I have the pleasure of being involved in to wider audiences in a balanced way. Over the course of any given year we will be offered opportunities to participate in in varying degrees.  Whether that participation appears to be small — like posting an idea to SpeakUp UVa requesting more comics in the library or attending an open Strategic Planning Forum to rant on the efficacy of SIS or the advising process as a whole — by virtue of informing yourself of the issues and making yourself heard, you’ve become a part of what could be a closed system. The fact that UVa makes significant efforts to (typically) keep systems open to dialogue is pretty darn cool.  And it’s something you shouldn’t take for granted.

Go on now, don’t be scared to get involved.  Or get even MORE involved if you already are (who needs sleep?!). We are in an exciting time of the University’s history as the University comes together to build THE strategic plan that will usher good ol’ UVa into ever-increasing eminence as she marchers towards her 400th year. Got something you want to see change?  Something you never want to change? Let folks know.  And as always – let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas you want communicated to Student Council.  I’m all ears. Well also other parts, but mainly ears.

Have a great semester!


Janelle S. Peifer | Curry Graduate School of Education Rep