Rebecca Niles ’23: Leadership for Hope
For Rebecca Niles ’23 Gordon felt like home before she even arrived. She visited Gordon often to see her older sister, Karoline Niles ’19. Rebecca felt secure at Gordon, and she also knew God was calling her here.
She started her first year with ambitious academic goals. “I have always been independent and self-sufficient,” she says. “I didn’t even give much time to friendships because I was so focused on my schoolwork.” Only a few months later her sense of community would shift drastically, with an email sent over spring break warning students not to return to Gordon’s campus. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the spring of her first year, and she found herself back at home with her family.
“Everything changed then,” she remembers. Suddenly academics meant very little, and families were holding each other close. “I saw the need for community so clearly.”
She took that passion for creating safe spaces back to Gordon for her sophomore year as a resident advisor in Wilson Hall. Residence life is a demanding role, even when the world feels safe and open. It is even harder in a world where physical gatherings were limited, anxiety about the possibility of a 14-day quarantine was always looming and the thread of community that ties the campus together seemed to be cut.
“My job was to help build community in a season of fear. I was 19 years old and felt woefully inadequate, and I needed to learn how to depend on my staff and the Lord.” She learned how to build genuine community in a season where her classmates and the girls on her floor needed it most.
“We went on lots of walks and played lots of Zoom bingo! I learned something: We are resilient. We are creative. And we need God and each other more than ever.”
The leadership lessons Rebecca learned carried into her junior year, as she continued her RA duties and joined the Orientation team as orientation coordinator. Now she had the opportunity to lead a team whose purpose was to frame community for those stepping onto Gordon’s campus for the first time as students. Many first-year students feel anxious, excited and scared all at once. “We changed the overall theme to Belonging because we want every student who walks through the door to know that we see them, we love them and we want them to find community here.”
The transformative lesson she has learned is that Christian community can be found anywhere: in a classroom, in a residence hall, downtown or across the world. On a missions trip to Wales, Rebecca saw how everything she’s learned about creating space for community for students can help bring the light of Christ to the darkest places. “There is a thread of Christian community that crosses the oceans. When you meet a Christian in another place, you automatically have that connecting point as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a humbling reminder that none of us are meant to do this alone.”
No matter where she goes next, Rebecca knows that God is good, and he is calling her to use her leadership experiences at Gordon to bring hope to the world. “I want to help people understand that God is present and active in this world. I’ve practiced this in Res Life, through Orientation and on my missions trip overseas. Gordon has prepared me for whatever’s next!”