Looking back over the past year, I am not sure why I opted to be the Leadership and Values (L&V) rep for Section H. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and probably not very popular either.
But in the true spirit of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” I wrote my position paper and stood for elections almost exactly a year ago. Well, I have emerged from the RC year with nerves of steel and a resilience greatly strengthened by the many big and small challenges that typify the life of an L&V rep.
The typical day in the life of an L&V rep is not unlike that of a general manager – there are mostly good days and days when members of your team, in this case, your entire section, don’t always get along. The gamut of issues that crop up are pretty amazing – from insensitive sky deck awards to frequent and distracting trips to the bathroom and more serious issues such as allegations of bullying fellow students, allegedly aided with fire arms. Before you wipe your brow and declare this is too much of a heavy-duty job for you, let me assure you that the last issue was proven to be the figment of someone’s wild and rather inconvenient imagination.
In my opinion, the L&V rep is just that – a representative of the student body, nothing more and nothing less. She is neither an administrator nor someone who is entitled to make judgments and decisions. Rather, it is a role that requires the rep to be in sync with the section, to facilitate discussions so that matters of varying degrees of complexity can be resolved and often to just be there for her classmates to trust and confide in. It requires patience and total commitment to helping others, even if it means giving up precious hours that you would otherwise spend on case preparation or job searches to being on the phone, reassuring someone that you understand why something upset her in class that day.
One of the chief responsibilities of the L&V rep is to facilitate discussions around section norms. This is largely, a collective effort and an investment towards ensuring a rewarding section experience. It is also a work in progress, constantly evolving as the section gets more comfortable with discussions and indeed, in their daily interactions amongst each other, with invited speakers, admission guests and perhaps most importantly, with visiting friends, family and significant others. I have many fond memories from the RC year – that of my husband’s first visit to class and the rousing welcome given by my section-mates; or the standing ovation given to a classmate who was heading out to be married over spring break; or the brave men in my section who donned brightly colored tights and gave a ballet performance on Spangler lawn all in the name of raising money for charity. None of these was ever written into standard operating practice by our section. In reality, norms are as much about etiquette and decorum as they are about spontaneity, respecting diversity and the freedom to be oneself in a safe and accepting environment. And certainly, norms are much bigger than any single person in the section, yes, even the L&V rep!
L&V reps may also be called upon to address difficult situations – some just plain embarrassing, such as body odor issues, while some more severe, such as instances of sexual harassment and racial or ethnic slurs. While I have not encountered any of these situations in the past year, the Community Values Program does an excellent job of training all newly-elected L&V officers to handle potential situations related to the above and other issues.
If it is true that Harvard does an exceptional job in selecting leaders into the MBA program, then it also must be true that there is a hidden L&V rep in all of us. Leadership is about having a strong sense of values, respect, integrity and the ability to stand up for what one truly believes is the right thing to do. Sometimes, that means having to do the unpopular thing, such as cautioning a friend about the use of language that may be considered to be hurtful by some, or speaking to a classmate about breached section norms. It is a task that requires tact, empathy and a true willingness to help rather than to impose.
The L&V rep position has been an amazing learning experience for me. It has taught me the ability to accept differences while dissenting, to arbitrate with impartiality, regardless of my own beliefs on the matter and to use many resources – those provided by the school, as well as others – in helping to identify and work through issues. I cannot emphasize enough the role of other section officers including my L&V colleagues from other sections, our section chair and the office of community values for helping me work through many challenging situations.
My L&V rep experience has not been without challenges. There have been many successes and some that I wish had different outcomes. However, every one of them has been a tremendous learning experience and an opportunity to get to know my section, life at HBS and indeed, life in general a little better.
To all the L&V reps in other sections, as well as in years gone by, kudos on taking on this responsibility. And to all of you who will continue the legacy of the L&V position – welcome aboard, enjoy the ride and prepare to earn your stripes!