Discovering What it Means to Lead
Stephen White is a Junior studying English, a Newman Hall Resident Advisor (RA), and an active member of the Catholic Illini community. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you involved in at St. John's?
My primary duty is as RA for the 1 South Men's floor. I lead a Bible study every Tuesday at 8:00 PM. Also this semester, we had a Newman men's intermural soccer team that I led with another RA (we had an undefeated season until the playoffs). Since I’ve been a student, I’ve been on three Koinonia retreats and I’m the reunion coordinator this year.
Those retreats are so important. For me, coming into Newman, I didn't have a lot of connections right at the beginning. Then I went on the first Koinonia of the year and it was so much fun to make all those connections. Now I’m able to serve on the team, strengthen those connections, and make new ones.
How did you first begin to get involved at St. John’s?
It was through a Bible study. I was going to the Community College here for the first two years, and at the end of my first year I really wanted to join a Bible study at Newman. I thought that'd be fun. My older brother connected me with a senior leader who invited me to his bible study. And then my foot was in the door. The leader was graduating, so he asked me to lead his Bible study next year and I said yes.
Stepping into the role of an RA, what have you learned about servant leadership?
Being an RA has been very formative. You live in the place where you work. That's a big change for sure –– to wake up in the morning and see the people who are under your care, but also your friends, and your boss. You walk downstairs in your pajamas and there's your boss (laughs).
It's stretched me a lot, I won't lie. I’ve had to lead in a lot of ways that I've never done. Like being in charge of planning events, that's been a big step because that's not one of my strengths. But also stepping into the role of being a peer and a friend but also the boss [has stretched me]. As an RA, it is your job to make sure people are following the rules, make sure people are OK, deal with people's problems, and be open to relationships and being available for everyone.
I like being around people and I like meeting new people. That's one of the things that has been really great about the RA position because it’s something I'm super comfortable doing. It's like talking to random people and just getting to know a little bit about them.
So when you're that RA on duty, you're in charge of something that's really important, taking care of the building and taking care of the residents.
What do you think makes serving this community so important?
It's because Jesus is here and that's what we're focused on. At the end of the day, that's what's at the top of all of this. The outreach to the community, incorporating people in, having fun events, having a safe and clean living space, and maintaining respect is all because Jesus is here, right? He's right downstairs and we can go see him anytime. That makes a huge difference, so we hold ourselves to a different standard.
Because Jesus is here we hold ourselves to a higher standard of love and outreach to people, and incorporating people in, and making something special out of our living space because it is also the living space of Jesus.
What advice would you give to incoming Catholic Illini or students who haven’t gotten involved yet?
Don't be afraid of showing up. Don't feel like it's weird.
Sometimes when you show up to a place, it really doesn't feel like you belong at first. It may feel like a small, tight-knit community. But they're so ready to invite you in. It was awkward at first for me to show up. I was like, “I don't know anyone. I'm just going to come to Newman and hang out until someone says hi.”
But if you come to the events, if you join a Bible study, if you talk to people after Mass and you make those connections, this place can give you so much life and give you a home base during college.
So my advice is very simply: don't be afraid to show up. Don't be afraid to make connections. Don't be afraid to go to the event and have fun. Just let yourself take joy in that and be swept up into the beauty of the Newman community.