Evidence of the awesome power—and tremendous risks—of social media are everywhere. The responsible leadership required to constructively harness its potential while insulating against inherent dangers can seem hard to find.
Feru Deshong ’23 shared examples and lessons on both recently as a panelist in the first forum of the Social Media & Academic Freedom Events (SMAFE) committee, offering tips on creating value while reducing risk for community members who decide to use social media.
Deshong—the Director of Media for the Black Student Union, and Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion of the Panhellenic Society at Babson—joined Vice President of Learner Success and Dean of Campus Life Lawrence P. Ward, Senior Lecturer Rich Hanna, Director of Content Strategy Kait Lanthier, Employer Brand Strategist Michael Bruny, and me.
Deshong also enjoyed some friendly faces among the 100 community members engaging live: her parents and two aunts. That led to the most unexpected moment of the forum, which also was the most magical.
Toward the end of the question-and-answer portion of the event, in an impromptu exchange, her aunt, Joann Deshong, shared lessons from her experience on the frontlines treating COVID-19 patients during the darkest days of the pandemic as a nurse at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, the busiest emergency room in New York City. She offered her thoughts about social media use in a crisis, which she described as a net positive, despite its inherent risks.
Those “real world” experiences were enlightening: a testament to how leaders can emerge in any circumstance and in any situation. Her thoughts also highlighted how the traits of entrepreneurial leaders can impact ecosystems everywhere, especially in the most volatile and uncertain times. Most notably, when asked what educators can do at a school such as Babson to prepare students for work in intense crises, she encouraged “nurturing empathy,” and shared tips on persevering and maintaining a sense of optimism.
Her wise words of advice proved the perfect summation to the themes of the SMAFE committee’s first virtual event: The best coping mechanism in the face of negativity (online and in real life), the panel agreed, is to keep a positive outlook and remember your power to choose what you do, who you are, how you react, the example you set, and the impact you have on others.
After sharing the panel with Feru Deshong, I asked her to reflect on her experience and her insights:
“I’ve never spoken to such a large audience about social media; it was a great experience that I am very grateful for. I have gained more confidence about my influence.”
“Don’t underestimate your power! No matter how many followers you have, you can change the world, and with that power comes responsibility. Don’t wait for anyone else to confirm that; take your resources and use them to the best of your ability.”
“That I could be of help to others, especially in the context of questions related to activism. I never thought I would be able to help others spread information about causes they care about.”
“That freedom of speech is not without limit or consequences. We need to be intentional, not just about what we post, but how we’d like others to react to it.”
“That what you see in someone’s social media profile is never the whole story. There are so many edited photos and beauty standards that are impossible to reach online. I want people to know that being authentic is worth more than trying to fit in.”
“It confirmed and nurtured my interest in advertising. I want to be involved in communications because I didn’t see myself, nor my friends with different abilities and backgrounds, represented. Inclusion is what I value, and it is my goal in my career.”
Adam Sulkowski is an Associate Professor of Law & Sustainability at Babson College.
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