Opinion Opinion Feature

Role models

What does it mean to be a “role model”?

A frosh candidate said, in the Miting de Avance (MDA) held last November, that leaders are the “role models for the future”, as people would use their actions as a benchmark for what it means to be right and wrong. It was an admirable answer, and something that we have come to expect from these individuals. As democratically-elected leaders of the student body, the burden of being the ideal representation of a DLSU student falls heavily on their shoulders. They are the ones that will stand up for us on University issues, relay our concerns to administrators, and serve as our best example to outsiders.

Perhaps it has come from my years of being a witness to these kinds of events that I have come to view such bold remarks with cynicism. Experience has shown me that more often than not, good role models are the exception rather than the rule. I have met individuals who strove to make changes during their brief terms in office, while I have also seen my fair share of officers who have fallen short of expectations.

Mind you, being a role model does not mean they are perfect individuals. Despite the acclaim and fame achieved by famous individuals, history has shown that some have led less desirable lives behind the scenes. Some of the greatest artists and brightest minds have had bouts with substance abuse and many of these individuals had less than great personalities.

Student leaders, it seems, are not so different. Last January, I joined a private Facebook group out of curiosity. Meme groups are commonplace nowadays, covering a wide range of niche tastes and absurdist comedy. But I noticed something interesting about this particular group: prominent student leaders were active members, engaging with some of the posts by reacting or tagging their friends, or posting some of the memes themselves. It seems normal at first, until you see that the kind of memes being shared were sexist, racist, or just downright offensive—the kind of stuff most of us are too polite to share publicly on our News Feed.

What made it worse was that these people who posted are upperclassmen who are currently serving as party leaders and elected officials holding the highest positions in the University Student Government—individuals who should know better than to express such behavior, regardless if it was in private or in public. Despite being a private group, its membership numbered in the thousands, some members were not even from DLSU.

Before the month ended, the group was shut down—by Facebook no less—for violating Community Standards. For it to have reached such an abrupt end is enough to paint an image of the nature and severity of its content.

Some might argue that these leaders are simply being themselves, acting as if they were no different from any other college student. Understanding meme culture and partaking in such activities can be seen as “down to earth”. But let’s not forget that they are also role models. While it may seem absurd to judge someone based on the posts they make or respond to in one group, we have to remember that this is representative of their normal behavior and their personal ethics.

We hold these individuals to a higher standard, whether or not they want to be. Even outside official functions, we expect these people to have some level of professionalism because of their status as student leaders. It’s not because they’re role models that they become student leaders; it’s because they’re student leaders that they inevitably become role models.

It’s disturbing to think that their crass humor has similarities with what we often see or hear from our government leaders, the kind of jokes that have become unacceptable in today’s modern society. As mature individuals, it’s up to us to choose our own role models and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Through critical thinking, we must discern the decisions made and actions undertaken by our elected leaders and our role models, especially because they are not always right.  We should know better.

Or maybe we need to look at it in another way. Instead of finding someone to emulate, why not be that someone worth emulating? It sounds tough, yes, but it’s not impossible. It takes a courageous step, but steps, no matter how small, will take us far if we continuously move forward. Another frosh candidate, who also spoke during that same MDA, perhaps said it best: if she has the ability to serve, so does any other student.

All of us can be role models of our own future.

Frank Santiago

By Frank Santiago

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