Your Organization is Not an Island
By Brandon Cestrone
What’s the single easiest way to make your YAL chapter more effective? Recognize that your YAL chapter is not an island on campus. Without question, you will accomplish more and engage a larger number of students if you work with faculty, staff, and student government to get the most out of your time on campus.
Let’s face it—most professors on your campus don’t pass the libertarian or conservative litmus test, but that doesn’t mean they disagree with you on all the issues, or that they don’t want to help you educate students and open dialogue. Someone who doesn’t align with you on every single issue is not the enemy. In fact, most professors, administrators, and other campus leaders will want to help your activism however they can—but you have to ask.
Build a Solid Foundation
Focus on building relationships with your school’s professors, department heads, deans, the people in the student involvement office, even (or perhaps especially) secretaries!
How do you go about building relationships? At the beginning of the semester, make it a point to first meet with the people in your Student Government Association. They are there to help you with your organization. Talk to them in person and make sure you let them know your plans for the school year. Make their job easier by giving advance notice about your plans and maybe they will reciprocate. You should also contact as many relevant department heads and professors as possible. Tell them who you are, what your organizational goals are, and why you want to achieve those goals.
It’s Not about you
Let’s make one thing clear before we move on: Professors don’t care about your organization. Decent professors do, however, care about educating students. So when you talk to faculty about YAL, emphasize that helping your chapter will educate students and open dialogue. Explain why you would love to work with each professor, and how they can help. Even if you only agree on a few issues, focus on that common ground going forward. Your chapter should use all the help it can get, and professors and department heads can offer a lot of help.
Building Coalitions with Departments
Department heads are especially important people to get to know. They can influence the professors in their department, sponsor your events, and even be a source for funds. In Fall 2011, my YAL chapter at Slippery Rock University held an Economic Panel Discussion which had over 300 students in attendance.
Why did so many people come? Because we’d built relationships with professors, discussing how the panel discussion would benefit and educate students. The SRU chapter consistently met with the Economics Department head, who, in turn, funded the event and told the other professors in the department to assign the event as extra credit. Did you read me correctly? Simply because Slippery Rock YAL asked, our event was extra credit for economics students, who showed up by the dozen. Never underestimate the power of asking, especially if you frame your argument correctly and have an already-established relationship.
Don’t Forget other Faculty
When was the last time you talked with the person in charge of tabling requests? Have you formed a relationship with them—since you are going to be working together throughout the year? How about the head of your activities department or the student newspaper? Don’t leave these important people out of your campaign to build relationships across campus. Above all, never forget secretaries; they are the ones who control whether or not your message gets to the professor or department head.
Lastly, remember to follow through with any faculty member who assists your chapter. Thank them for participating and let them know you want to continue working together in the future. If done correctly, you can multiply your exposure on campus through faculty; you might even influence their mindset in the process.
The Time is Now
Next time you’re on campus and you see available professors, introduce yourself. Tell them your organization wants to help keep the free flow of information on campus vibrant, and you want to work with them to accomplish this. You might be surprised how willing they are to help.
Brandon graduated from Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania with a master's degree in history. While attending SRU Brandon co-founded the Slippery Rock Young Americans for Liberty and served as YAL’s State Chair for PA. Outside of academics, Brandon has been a managing sales consultant for over five years but left the world of retail to joined the YAL team in May.