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All photos by: Cindy Rivas Alfaro

With over 500 student organizations, UH has various clubs for students to join. It only takes three people to start a club and many students drag along their friends to be the founding members. Some end up lasting a few weeks while others gain the traction to last for years. Working alongside friends toward a common goal can be rewarding and can play a big role in creating unforgettable memories.

However, a special kind of balance needs to be created when working with friends to make sure boundaries and feelings don’t get too misaligned. Here are some ways in which student leaders balance working with their friends.

Sarah Khan is the Director of the Council for Cultural Activities which is known for putting together Cultural Taste of Houston and Cultural Explosion. Last year, it was her second year being a part of CCA but this time, she was the director and the majority of the executive board were people she considers friends.

“It was harder for me last year to establish a clear boundary between being the director and being a fellow friend,” Khan said. “Going out with them at night but also coming back in the morning to the same workspace, it was a bit hard for me.”

Khan dealt with some drama on the executive board when members felt she was being biased or picking favorites when it came to her friends. For Khan, she found speaking to her adviser throughout it all and clarifying team dynamics were most helpful to her. She wasn’t purposefully leaving people out, she was assigning tasks based on efficiency which is vital within fast-paced student organizations.

Khan started opening up to her fellow members more and went on trying to see where their strengths were in the organization. At retreats, she made members do some elevator pitches, practice on contracts and even try to send a few emails. With this, she hoped she could find tasks and positions that would best align with the members who felt left out.

“The solution was making sure they knew that I was assessing communication and relationship based on where the strength was lying with that particular individual,” Khan said.

Now, in her second year being director, Khan had to start her executive board from scratch, but this time with complete strangers outside of her assistant director.

With the experience under her belt, Khan feels like she’s better equipped to communicate effectively with her executive board on what she expects from them while also building meaningful relationships within CCA.

“I think it’s really nice making these connections and even after your commitment in that organization has passed, you’re still in touch with them and could rely on them for certain things,” Khan said.

For Student Government Association President Benjamin Rizk, it’s all about navigating the organization and connecting people to collaborate in a timely matter.

It’s important to stay focused on the task at hand during work hours and not spend too much time dwelling on disagreements, Rizk said. SGA spends a lot of time during meetings trying to reach a consensus for a bill or introducing new legislation. It becomes counterproductive when things get too personal.

“It’s not worth the time or the energy to try to group people into categories in your head of who’s your friend and who’s your enemy. You’re going to have to work with everyone,” Rizk said.

With such a tight deadline to get as many things done as possible in a single year, Rizk said it comes naturally to separate work from personal life. Accomplishing initiatives is at the forefront of the 60th administration. But as with many things in life, burnout can easily catch up.

“It got to the point where my body was just like ‘No.’ So I would say my body found the work-life balance for me,” Rizk said. “My stubborn head will make me try to do things but now I’m realizing I really have a limited amount of time.”

Rizk focuses a lot more on what he can accomplish rather than setting unrealistic goals that leave him feeling defeated. He makes sure to reach out to people in his cabinet whom he can rely on to get the work done. Just like Khan, he focuses on the strengths people bring to the table to maximize efficiency.

Despite all the work-focused things, he still leaves time to hang out with people outside of the SGA office, even calling his house the unofficial “campaign headquarters” where SGA folks can hang out.

“I’m just trying to find people who will actually advocate the best way,” Rizk said. “So that’s what I’ve learned now. Just knowledge of responsibilities, how much time you have and filtering out people a lot more.”

Omar Castanon is the Director of the Metropolitan Volunteer Program and he finds working with friends in an organization doesn’t even feel like work when you’re surrounded by your favorite people.

“I’m really fortunate enough to be in this position to be working with people that I truly care about,” Castanon said. “I think it’s really impactful to meet other people who are also just as passionate as me.” 

However, it was difficult for Castanon to feel comfortable in the beginning as a first-generation college student. A little imposter syndrome settled in within him as he was surrounded by people much older than him who seemed to know what they were doing.

In moments when he felt overwhelmed or burned out, he made sure to remind himself why he was there in the first place.

“I never saw somebody who looked like me, spoke Spanish or somebody Hispanic or Latine in these positions of leadership when I was growing up,” Castanon said. “My work is having an impact on somebody and I can be that role model for somebody else.”

Reminiscing on the photoshoot, Castanon feels grateful to be able to have friends around him in his organization where he can do funny things like that. Even though it can get stressful sometimes when a majority of the work is done behind the scenes, he said it’s worth it.

“I’ve been able to have these friendships and make these connections with so many great people,” Castanon said.”It just reminds me that it really doesn’t feel like work because I’m with the people I love and they also love what they do.”

The photos below are modeled after the “Awkward JCPenny Photoshoot” trend and feature officers of the mentioned organizations.

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