Engagement Inbreeding

A couple of months ago, a debate erupted over the possible elitist nature of the popular online student affairs community, #SAchat. The discussion lasted for several days, before trailing off. But the idea of elitism stayed with me for a while afterwards because back in college, my student activities group was also accused of a similar thing. Ironically, the whole purpose of our student group was to promote student involvement on campus.

Thinking back on my time being involved in college and my experience of being with #SAchat since the beginning, I think I have another view on the elitist debate that I need to go back to a dance floor to help explain.

Let’s start with the idea that on any dance floor there are varying levels of engagement from five, being the most engaged, to neutrals, being the least engaged.

The most engaged people will tend towards the middle of the dance floor, and the least engaged people will camp out next to the wall. Go to just about any dance around the world, and you’ll see this same structure.

Most of the time, the most engaged people tend to stay dancing in the middle of the dance floor because that’s where they’ll have the most fun. They get to interact with other fives who are just as excited as they are. And the longer they stay in the middle, the stronger the relational bonds between the other fives, and thus they’ll want to stick around even longer. Being a five in the middle is addictive and will make you forget that there are other people on the dance floor. Rarely will a five unconsciously break away from the other fives and spread out to the neutrals on the edge.

Unconsciously, we all want to continue to hang around the people with whom we’ve built up the strongest relationships with and who are excited about the same things as we are.

Leadership is about consciously thinking about how you interact within any situation. It’s easy for leaders to clump together and celebrate how cool it is to be a five. But that doesn’t help the greater cause of bringing more people onto the dance floor. It’s hard to break away from your group and reach out to someone brand new. But if fives continue to only interact with fellow fives, I can see how easy it is for someone to call them elitist, and over time, for the fives to be the only ones left within the community.

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