SGA hosts first annual Women’s Leadership Symposium

By Sorelle Mbakop

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

With approximately 12 alumni and 50 students representing different academic departments and Registered Student Organizations in attendance, the Student Government Association hosted its first annual Women’s Leadership Symposium, titled “Styles & Stereotypes.”

Susan Callender, a University of Massachusetts alumna, was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s conference. Callender is the founder of Oh My Gauche!, a company specializing in the training, coaching and development of individuals and organizations.

“They have experience. They have different life lessons that we have not gone through yet, so they can give us a different perspective than we can give each other,” SGA Speaker of the Senate Sïonan Barrett said regarding why bringing women alumni into the conversation was important.

Barrett said that without the alumni, “Students would just be talking to each other wondering what the future would be like, but with the alumni, they have someone who has gone through everything they are scared and nervous about.”

Town residents also came to show support. Julie Federman, health director for the town of Amherst, came because she is passionate about “women being able to have work that really feeds their souls.”

“I think it is important for us to have more women in leadership positions and the place to start with that is as young as possible,” Federman said. “UMass is an important part of our town, so I like to partner up with UMass when they are doing exciting things for their students and I think this is a very exciting endeavor and I hope each year it is going to grow and continue. There is a lot to be talked about when we think of women in leadership.”

Students highlighted gender inequalities that they believe exist on the UMass campus. Julia Nielsen, a junior and SGA senator, said that it was important for her to attend the conference “because there are not a lot of women in the senate and there are not a lot of women in the student government on campus.”
Nielsen saw the conference as a start to getting more women leaders involved on campus, especially in student government roles.

This came as a lesson to many of the alumni and older participants at the conference who were mentoring the students. Federman said that she has learned that there are young women who are about to enter the professional world and fear facing stereotypes that demean women in the workplace. She added that many have been raised in a way that was not supportive of women being successful and have faced many stereotypes about what it’s like to be a young woman planning for one’s education and career.

Most students attended the conference to join other women in building a united front against stereotypes inflicted on women. Meghan Fish, a junior and SGA senator, attended because, “It was important to support fellow SGA members and also because it is important for women to make a name for themselves in politics and gain stronger support in power.”

The symposium raised the issue of difference between men and women as leaders.

“We are just starting to break down these stereotypes and touch on the fact that a lot of the way we feel about this has to do with our social construction, and these social constructs we have now were created by men and for men,” UMass junior Karyssa Marilyn Youngs said.

She added that the “only way to make any change is definitely through educating everyone and having an open discussion like we are having here today.”

Stephanie Doctor, a senior and natural resource conversation major, said she wanted advice on how to deal with negative stereotypes of women in leadership positions because she is preparing to enter and work in a male-dominated field. Many felt that the smaller group discussion setting of the event gave them the ability to better discuss the issues at hand.

“We are having really in-depth discussions and going deeper into the socialization of women and what we are trained to do,” Barrett said. “Having the setting of the conference is more of an open discussion is more helpful because it lets you do some self-reflection and explore your own experiences.”

Barrett said she hopes the Women’s Leadership Symposium is the first of many to come. She said that she wanted to test out this smaller symposium first, but that she is hoping to do a bigger event next year and invite double the amount of people to make it a bigger tradition on campus.

Sorelle Mbakop can be reached at [email protected]