Diverse Student Leadership Conference

Summer 2008

Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference

By Natalie Davis Miller

When it comes to a conversation on diversity, Saint Mary’s students are leading the discussion, and others are listening. “The Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference (DSLC) was such an encouraging experience for me,” says Joanne Green, experiential learning coordinator at Huntington University. “It was encouraging to see what Saint Mary’s is doing in this area. My hope would be that Huntington will follow suit.”

This year marked the third year for the Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference, held February 13–15, on the campus of Saint Mary’s College. The conference, sponsored by the Student Diversity Board (SDB), included nearly 250 participants, a significant growth from last year’s registration of 150. Participants ranged from student, faculty, and staff from Goshen College, Huntington University, Saint Mary’s College, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University South Bend, and the University of St. Francis at Fort Wayne, to local high school students and community leaders. The participants were diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and age, and according to Adriana Lopez ’08, conference chair and SDB vice president, “It was a very inclusive environment in that respect.”

The DSLC was planned and managed by students. “What is so unique about this conference is the fact that DSLC is a result of a student initiative,” explains Laris Olin Ortiz, director of multicultural affairs for Saint Mary’s. “DSLC provides a wonderful opportunity for students to serve in leadership positions. With the help of different campus entities, students are involved in the decision making process, planning, and implementation.”

Lopez had assistance from Ed Ackerly, director of corporate and foundation relations, in securing funds for the conference from outside sources. Vesela Yondova, treasurer for DSLC and the Student Diversity Board, was responsible for applying for co-sponsorships on campus. The three-day conference was presented free of charge.

Left to right: Maricruz Cardenas, Sarah Barnes, Morgan Gay, Adriana Rodríguez, and Denise López

Left to right: Maricruz Cardenas, Sarah Barnes, Morgan Gay, Adriana Rodríguez, and Denise López

“From my initial registration, this conference was well organized and thoughtful. Knowing students spearheaded this experience is a true testimony to the students’ commitment and passion to promote healthy dialogue regarding issues of diversity,” comments Green.

Forty workshop presenters came from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University South Bend, Saint Mary’s College, the American Civil Liberties Union, Congressman Donnelly’s South Bend District Offi ce, and the League of Women Voters, Washington Center. The closing speaker was Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, president emerita of Bennett College for Women and Spelman College. The highlight of the conference for Lopez was the presentation by Dr. Cole. “As a person truly committed to women’s education, equality, and social justice, it was very powerful to have Dr. Cole talk about the importance of having diversity and inclusion on our agenda. Her keynote address touched on aspects that I believe lie at the very core of the Student Diversity Board’s mission and purpose,” says Lopez.

Lopez says that she received great feedback from both the attendees and speakers. “Evaluations of the DSLC talked about the level of professionalism at the conference. Most importantly, participants spoke about the impact DSLC had in their personal lives.”

The purpose of the Diverse Students’ Leadership Conference according to their mission statement, is to inform participants of the adversities and benefits within diverse academic, social, and professional settings. “The main objective was for participants to enjoy the conference, and be inspired and motivated to create social change,” adds Lopez.

Lopez says that she believes they achieved their goals for the conference. “It was very satisfying to hear that participants, especially students, were motivated to want to learn more about issues regarding diversity, and were empowered to become agents of social change. I must say that the conference definitely exceeded my expectations.”