Veteran Volunteers: A power dynamic

One of the key issues that I have noticed over the past three weeks is an abuse of power at the hands of volunteers who have been at the site for a long time. Each week, there is a massive turnover in the people who are at the house. Typically, anywhere from 5-10 people will leave on Monday morning and another set of 5-10 new people will arrive. When the new people first get to the house, it is not uncommon for the people who have already been in the house to stand around in unwelcoming groups and chat about who has arrived. This leaves new arrivals extremely stressed and isolated.

As the week goes on, the new people slowly integrate into meeting circles and project teams which helps to break some of the barriers. Even still, veteran volunteers will often take the lead in an aggressive manner whilst on projects. These volunteers will bring up people who have already left and talk about how great they worked together in an attempt to “reminisce”. New volunteers usually just laugh awkwardly or feel intimidated to rise to a natural leadership role, even when they are sometimes more qualified than old volunteers (ex: a nurse on a medical project vs. a pre-med student).

When thinking about this from a Jepson perspective, the first thing that came to my mind was the importance of critical thinking and respectfully calling out others on their fallacies. In many cases, veteran volunteers will think they have the solutions to an issue without the proper evidence to back up what they are saying. Through encouraging a culture of respectfully calling one another out on our quick conclusions, we can help to ensure that volunteers are not acting without proper evidence for their conclusions. Additionally, I thought about the big-little programs that are common in sororities, fraternities, and Westhampton college. By assigning a new person to a more experienced volunteer who is on the same project as them, that can help facilitate a direct relationship and also build a degree of mutual respect. This way, new volunteers are not as intimidated and the more experienced volunteers are able to build respect and relationships with new people.