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UMass students inspired at leadership conference

By: Gisel Saillant

Collegian Staff

All photos courtesy of Gisel Saillant

This is my perspective on the 24th Annual Carroll F. S. National Black Student Leadership Development Conference in Washington D.C., which I attended from Jan. 8-11. Aside from a one hour flight in a matchbox of a plane, the trip to D.C. was smooth. When we arrived at the Hyatt Hotel, we were very impressed with the hospitality and our rooms. We spent the afternoon sightseeing at Union Station and Capitol Hill before heading back to dinner at the hotel.


The next day we had to be in the ballroom by 8 a.m. No breakfast was being served, and it was too late to buy something at Starbucks. So I had to pay $6.50 for a muffin and a banana from the hotel’s breakfast vendor. This was alarming! I tried to hustle another muffin, but the lady was not budging.


Luckily, the workshops that day made up for my bad breakfast experience. In the Collegian article published Jan. 27, Kimya Hedayat-Zadeh gave great detail on the keynote speakers that presided during the weekend conference. This post focuses on the workshop I attended. This included an array of presentations from “Did I Ever Tell You That You Were My Shero?” to “Beyond Talk: Best Practices for Helping College Men of Color Find Success.”

One of the more outstanding workshops was entitled “Black Thighs, Black Guys, and Bedroom Lies,” after the facilitator, Hasani Pettiford’s book. I honestly remember just following the crowd for this workshop, since I forgot my agenda. Regardless of how I got there, I’m glad I stayed for this intense workshop!


Mr. Pettiford not only lectured, but created scenarios that helped us understand the tangled web of sexual issues in relationships. His presentation was appropriate for the college students present, because most of the scenarios dealt with social games that happen on college campuses, like “who is the player and who is getting played.” He created an interesting scenario demonstrating how sex isn’t just physical but also mental. He picked a number of people from the audience and created a chain behind one person to demonstrate how the people you have sex with deposit their emotional complexities on to you. If you have sex with several people, regardless of any “friend with benefits” agreement, that person is still emotionally attached to you and you to them.

Another workshop I attended was entitled, “Changing the Leader Within.” It was hosted by Jeff Johnson: BET host, producer and author also known as “Cousin Jeff.”


I personally took notes that detail strategies that can enhance the relationship between a student leader and the campus community. In this workshop, it was helpful that Johnson infused his personal failures and successes as part of the learning process in becoming a student leader. He mentioned that throughout his life in a leadership position in the NAACP, he felt he was the “Biggest negro since King.” He used this experience to transmit a level of humility that everyone must have, so his or her accomplishments do not become his or her universe. Cousin Jeff mentioned that surrounding yourself with people that are honest about your actions is essential.

“’No one around me held me accountable’… is a formula for insanity,” Johnson said. He broke it down as follows. Having leadership means that you are an example for people, and people can still follow you in your mistakes. This can be attained by admitting you are not perfect, learning to exist in silence and by surrounding yourself with people that can help you change.

Overall the conference was a reflective experience, at least for me, to know that people all around the nation are engaging in discourse about race, privilege, leadership, ethics and religion; as well as how to enhance your campus experience and exploring these complexities.

Gisel Saillant can be reached at

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