The ‘How,’ ‘What,’ and ‘Why,’ of the Union College Challenge


Students taking part in the challenge in Reamer Campus Centre.

Shriya Biswas, 807 Editor

President David Harris initiated the Union College Challenge in which he encourages all the members of the Union Community to step out of their comfort zones by expanding their horizons. This was introduced in the Fall Term of the academic year 2018 and the main aim of the challenge is to explore new activities that would require people to embrace the idea of “becoming comfortable being uncomfortable” and then share personal challenges. When asked what encouraged President Harris to bring such an innovative idea on campus, he said “When I was writing my inaugural address in the summer of 2018, I was thinking what am I going to say, people may read this. I started thinking about the history of this school. I was thinking about the fact that this is the place and the time when we have to think about doing things differently to be successful. And it is easy to stay in the bubble of what you have known and done, especially for students this is probably the most diverse environment you are going to live in across a range of dimensions, so get out and engage and find out who you want to be” And so I realized that this first non-denominational college and there was a time when what was happening around the country in the late 1700s, there was a church that created a school that became a college and here churches actually came together and created one, so if you think about it, what happened is the founders of this school got out of their cultural comfort zones. That is where it started, that was the original Union College Challenge.” President Harris also elaborated that “once you try something that is out of your comfort zone, you often will realize that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be”. The first thing that President Harris says about this challenge is that “no one can impose it on you and it is not up to them to decide if it is a challenge, because only you know what your comfort zone is.” When asked if he was envisioning anything in particular when he came up with this idea, he says that “the idea is to get us in the habit of getting out of our comfort zone, whatever pushes you and can push you one unit or ten units, just start moving in a healthy way.” Challenges increased for everyone when COVID-19 came. “There were so many things that we used to do that we can’t do anymore, we had to adapt, it just was not a choice”. 

When asked how to motivate someone to move out of their comfort zone, when one is reluctant to do so, President Harris has two things to say “it’s up to you and you do not need to care what anyone else thinks about it and you do not actually have to tell anybody about it, it is not like it only counts if you make a sign”. President Harris thinks it is more effective as a leader if you say “join me then why don’t you all go do that”. That is when he came up with his two personal challenges, listening to political podcasts that were different from the ones he usually listens to and he was going to try yoga. When asked why he pursued his song challenge last term, President Harris says that “almost everyone has music that is accessible to them, and asking people to share that would be a fun way to broaden the music I was aware of and also a fun way to get to know people, a chat over their music”. President Harris clarifies that “challenges are culturally specific, there are some cultures within the US and across that are much more subdued, much more of an introvert approach vs. more of an extrovert culture”. President Harris loves hearing what people have to say about their challenges, he considers it to be “so much fun because you give this window into what is easy for them and what isn’t and it is often surprising.” One challenge that he remembers is when a woman conveyed to him that she has social anxiety and that is why she purposefully got a work-study job that would require her to interact with people. Another example is when a person said that they would go to a dining hall without texting anyone and sit somewhere and eat, this one stood out to him as he elaborates that “I went to college in 1987-1981 and there were no cell phones and so what I did that every day but I started to realize that that is not how many students live now”. When asked why the Be-Real Challenge this term, President Harris says that he learned about it in the last spring of 2022, and when one student asked him what he was doing during the break, he said that he would be on campus. He thought “what do people think I do?” So as he says he thought, “it could be kind of a fun way to share what a President does, knowing that it would make me uncomfortable thinking what I want to share,” He thinks that this challenge is fun but also at times it can get stressful as it is hard to keep a track of when Be-Real goes says President Harris jokingly.


How To Participate: 

1st Step: Post to social media what you want to accomplish and why it pushes you beyond your comfort zone. 

2nd Step: Post updates as you work towards achieving your goal. Give others a chance to support you in achieving your goal. And, of course, we all want to celebrate your achievement! Remember to tag your post with the #Union College Challenge.

3rd Step: After completing the challenge, fill out a short form on the website! 

Courtesy Of Union College Challenge  

Perks of Participating in the Union College Challenge: 

  • Everyone who completes their challenge will receive a free t-shirt and either a coupon for Starbucks or a milkshake at Rathskeller. 
  • Three lucky individuals will receive a Union-themed prize package next spring.
  • One member of the Class of 2026 will also receive a Schenectady-themed prize package that includes two tickets to be President Harrris’ guest at the local touring production of the smash-hit musical “Hamilton” in March of 2023.  
  • Challenges must be submitted by March 5, to be entered into the prize raffle. 

Courtesy Of Union College Challenge