Participants in Eastern Mennonite University's LEAD Conference take a break for a group photo at Highland Retreat. The two-day event, hosted by Student Life and leaders of student organizations, focused on leadership strategies and campus collaboration. (Photo by Celeste Thomas)

Fall LEAD Conference promotes campus change through collaborative leadership

Nearly 50 students active in 22 clubs and organizations attended a two-day LEAD Conference at Highland Retreat this fall. Hosted by Student Life, the event helped students enhance their leadership skills, engage with campus resourcing, and “think about the role they play in moving EMU towards the place they want it to be,” said Leda Werner, a member of the conference planning committee and director of Safer Together. “This was really an opportunity to think outside the box and to talk together about the ways their various clubs’ goals intersected, so that they could collaborate toward the change they want to make on campus.”

The planning committee also included University Chaplain Brian Martin Burkholder, Director of Multicultural Student Services Celeste Thomas, and Director of Student Programs Rachel Roth Sawatzky.

But student leaders were primary shapers and contributors to the entire event, Werner said. A significant part of each day was “students learning from each other, and students leading learning experiences for other students.”

EMU SGA co-presidents Aman Seyoum, Faith Manickam, and Philip Kraybill with keynote speaker Sarah Nahar, doctoral student, Mennonite minister, former executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams and former SGA president of Spelman College. (Photo by Celeste Thomas)

Saturday’s breakout sessions focused on leading social justice initiatives, leading among peers, leading from your spiritual type, and the logistics of managing a student organization and event planning. Student co-leaders included Common Grounds staff Morgan Evans, Bri Garcia-Sanchez, Merry Yirga, and La’akea Fujita; Cindi Boyer and Zafri Yussoff with Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance; and Molly Piwonka and Madilyn Kilmer, with Eastern Mennonite Student Women’s Alliance.

Anne Coyne, Katie Corbit, and Tyler Goss, with student programs, also hosted a session for the student leaders on leveraging university resources and working effectively with professional staff and administrators.

Sarah Nahar, who had presented several times on campus in preceding days, talked about leadership preparedness and growth, as well as shifting campus culture and using the organization’s collective power. A scholar-activist, community cultivator, and doctoral student in environmental studies and religion at Syracuse University, Nahar drew from her own experience as SGA president at Spelman College, her undergraduate alma mater. 

In a session for all, she helped participants think about three guiding questions: 

  • How will you use your/our agency?
  • How will you use your/our voice/s?
  • How will you claim your/our power?

Schoenhardt came away from the conference feeling more capable and strengthened by her learnings, as well as buoyed by new friendships.

As a commuter student, she especially enjoyed the connections made during late-night conversations. “I also found that I got a lot out of our unstructured down time, from taking a hike with a few friends, playing Uno, coloring, and just having impactful conversations with other leaders within my own club and others,” she said.

Clubs represented at the 2021 LEAD Conference include Art Club, Asian & Pacific Islander Student Alliance, Black Student Alliance, Campus Activities Council, Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, Common Grounds, Destiny’s Daughters, Earthkeepers, Eastern Mennonite Student Women’s Alliance, Gospel Choir, International Student Organization, Latino Student Alliance, Peer Conflict & Restorative Justice Facilitators, Pre-Professional Health Society, Rec Sports, Res Life community assistants, Safe Space, Safer Together Peer Educators, Student Chaplains, Student Government Association, Sustainable Food Initiative, and Y-Serve.