When it was time for her first-grade class to form a line, LaDora Thomas always volunteered to be the caboose. From her perch in the back, she could see everything: every side conversation, every step out of line, everything that could potentially disrupt their perfect order. Then, she could move swiftly and correct it—before the line leader even knew what had happened.
“No one understood what a caboose was, no one understood why I needed to lead from the background or why we needed a leader at the end of the line,” Thomas said. “But that was so the person at the front can lead without worry.”
Now a junior at Lawrence University, Thomas is staying true to her first-grade roots. Although you might not see Thomas in her leadership roles on campus, she’s everywhere. From Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) to Residential Life to All is One—to name only a few of the positions decorating her long resume—Thomas is all about leading from the background.
So… what exactly is she doing?
Now in her third year as an LUCC member, Thomas has seen Lawrence student governance from all sides. Starting as a first-year class representative, Thomas quickly moved to take on the Cabinet-level role of public relations secretary. Now, following a special election at the beginning of November, Thomas will take over as LUCC vice president starting Winter Term.
In all these roles, Thomas has never necessarily been the face of LUCC. Still, she’s participating in key conversations, having her opinion heard in Cabinet, and promoting communication with the student body, largely through email and social media.
As soon as she started as public relations secretary, she had one key goal in mind: to make LUCC more accessible to the student body, breaking down barriers and making sure students are informed about the decisions that impact them. Since she took over running LUCC social media during her freshman year, it has more than doubled, growing from 180 followers to more than 400.
“I get to communicate with the student body in a simpler way, in a different way,” Thomas said. “My leadership there is more of a backseat position, and I really enjoy that—leading from behind. I don’t necessarily always have to be the leading person in a conversation, but I can provide my opinion, and it’s heard in those situations.”
This connection to the student body is fundamental to Thomas’s leadership style, and it carries over to her work as a community advisor (CA) in Residential Life. Especially with first-year students, Thomas is always ready to spark a conversation with one of her residents, doing what she can to help people navigate their first year of college and pass on the wisdom she’s learned through experience.
And now that she’s in the second year of the job, she’s really starting to see the rewards: she loves to watch her residents—some of whom have grown from shy first-years to outgoing CAs themselves—develop as they find their niche on campus.
Of course, her passion for helping others navigate their college experience doesn’t stop with her residents. As the president (or as she calls it, the “CEO”) of “All is One! Empowering Young Women of Color” (AIO), she strives to create a safe space for WOC to fully be themselves while also enabling others to find their path.
Rather than hosting a formal meeting every week, Thomas is taking AIO in a different direction, focusing on “decompression” events to promote community and healing. From “bestie chats” to cookies and coloring, she wants to create time for WOC to unwind without having to put on any performance.
“I think it’s just so important to have time to relax and really just be,” Thomas said. “We have to sometimes conform to the spaces around us to feel accepted and welcomed, and I want a space here where women of color can just come in and be themselves and fully be accepted regardless of all flaws.”
In addition to all that, Thomas has also taken on work with the Philanthropy and Engagement Center, the Communications office, and community service events.
What leadership can look like
The bottom line is simple: Thomas is a leader on campus, and she encourages everyone to find their opportunity to lead.
For Thomas, it’s all about leading from the background and providing whatever support is needed. She analyzes every situation in its entirety and thinks everything through before she acts. That way, she hopes her words and actions can be more impactful.
“Before I step into anything, I definitely analyze what I’m stepping into,” Thomas said. “Just as with this [LUCC] election, I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I applied. Had I not known what I was signing up for, if I were elected, would I be completely equipped? As a student leader, I never want to be inadequate when saying I’m going to help someone in a situation.”
But you don’t need to be LUCC vice president to be a leader, Thomas said. Everyone has their own level of comfort with leadership and their own style, and college is the time to explore that. As we make our way through life, Thomas said, everyone is responsible for being their own leader—designing their life, making their own plans, and influencing the people around them. As far as Thomas is concerned, the conflict resolution and problem-solving skills one develops in a leadership role on campus is critical to life after Lawrence.
“You definitely have to find that happy space where you can challenge yourself to take on a little bit more leadership, because it’s so needed,” Thomas said. “Even if it’s just one person walking down College Avenue and you know they’re a first year, and then you give them some advice. That’s a leadership position right there. Even if you don’t have a title, you’re being a leader.”
Class Year: 2023
Activities: LUCC, Residential Life, All Is One