So, what does WILL “do”, anyway?

Ultimately, WILL is a feminist leadership program aimed at creating social change.  All year, I’ve wondered about this goal.  What does it mean?  How is it “measurable” (yes, I’m that person)?  What will look like?  Last weekend, during a presentation at the UC Student Leadership Conference, a student  attending our session posed this question in very straightforward terms, “So, what does WILL do, anyway”?  We had been talking about the theoretical framework of WILL and sharing WILL values.  The question was a good one.

Honestly,  I wasn’t completely prepared to answer it.  I stumbled.  I had been struggling to clarify for myself the impact WILL was making in terms of social change.  I too was wrestling with this question.  I shared this doubt.

Being the inaugural year of WILL, we have been very intentional in focusing energies on developing the program itself—establishing our values, laying the theoretical groundwork.   The plan was to get our business in order before focusing energies on the “real world”, the world outside of WILL.  For a program explicitly aimed at creating social change, this decision might seem counter-productive.  It certainly feels counter-cultural.    Leadership and activism is after all about the business of making a difference for others, right?

At  last night’s WILL meeting, I was reminded that sometimes it’s enough (maybe necessary) to start with ourselves.  That if we do, and do a good job at it, then we are creating social change.   Our self-growth leaks out into the world, into interpersonal relationships, into our organizations, into our communities.  The change ripples out well beyond our own selves.

As WILL discussed the citizenship component of the Social Change Model of Leadership, it became clear that personal growth and development are key to being active citizens of the world.  Members began by sharing diverse perspectives on meanings of citizenship.  The role of power and privilege became a theme as members contemplated these ideas: strategies of citizenship are determined largely by one’s power and privilege.   Therefore, recognizing one’s own power and privilege are fundamental in being effective change agents.

While WILL members shared different opinions on what constitutes citizenship, when posed the question, “How has your WILL experience impacted your citizenship?”,  responses became more common.  WILL has fostered citizenship through fostering: “self-confidence”, “mindfulness”, “self-awareness”, “self-consciousness”,  “selfishness”.   Members shared examples of ways in which personal behavior has directly impacted others, whether colleagues, friends, fellow activists, classmates, other WILL participants.

While focusing on our personal selves and the WILL “self”, we were doing a lot.  We were changing our world.

I am learning so much from my own WILL experience—a true testament to the fact that as a community, we are co-constructing knowledge.  I was reminded last night, by these amazing WILL women, that the “business” of activism can be distracting.  We should not worry about busy-ing ourselves.  There is a need to quiet ourselves, make time for reflection, be with ourselves.

So, what does WILL do, anyway? WILL does WILL.


Amy Howton is the Assistant Director for the University of Cincinnati Women’s Center. She is also advisor to the WILL program. Amy can be contacted at willtoleaduc@gmail.com.

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