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Conference highlights women’s leadership at Mills

Leadership and civic engagement were not abstract concepts for the seven women who spoke at a conference held at Mills College on Apr. 4.

“It was an amazing event,” said prospective Mills student Elizabeth Jones, who was one of about 70 people to attend the event. “I received encouragement and strength for my own personal pursuits.”

The Mills Conference on Civic Engagement and Women’s Leadership showcased the research and real-world projects undertaken by students at the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) and the Institute for Civic Leadership (ICL).

The students were Cecilia Aguilera, Stephanie Cooper and Jennifer Smith of WLI, and Nadine Dixon, Tara Jones, Tracy Peerson-Faye and Kim Bess of ICL.

These women organized events and support groups, including events that promoted mental health, deconstructed the prison system, and educated women on financial literacy.

UC Berkeley senior Tara Jones, founder of D.I.V.A.S. (Diversity is Victory Among Sisters), a non-profit that mentors Oakland teens said that she enjoyed the conference. She said being a student and a mother of teenage twins and a four-year-old has kept her busy.

“I don’t get to see or notice all of the fabulous and smart women I am surrounded by” she said. “This conference enlightened me on a lot of social justice and social change that is brewing right here at Mills.”

Jones said ICL helped her develop a plan to make the community better for children. “Then ICL filled me with resources and courage to fulfill one of my biggest goals so far. This experience that I shared with my ICL and Mills sisters is one that I’ll never forget,” she said.

Armed with PowerPoints, photos and videos, the students at the conference presented arguments for their theses, demonstrating public speaking skills they will need as their careers unfold.

Each student received a special Certificate of Recognition from Mills alumnae and Congresswoman Barbara Lee to commend them for their scholarship and community involvement.

Questions from the audience helped the presenters further develop their thoughts and discuss the implications of their work.
WLI fellow and senior Cecilia Aguilera discussed her work in organizing Mind and Body Awareness Week, which consisted of health workshops and events for students.

She said the Conference gave her the opportunity to organize her research and raise questions about future forms of mental health resources at Mills.

“It was essential to my continual work around mental health to hear audience feedback and to allow them to engage in this very important conversation,” she said.

“The experience of the conference will give me a framework for future presentations, academic or professional, and gave me the confidence to pursue larger goals,” she added.

The conference included poster board displays set up on tables, which illustrated what organizations were like. Organizations represented included Fem Dems, the Peer Health Exchange and Sisters Inspiring Sisters.

Mills senior Shaina Van Pelt, currently a student in the Public Interest Ethnography course, was a representative for the poster board session. She also stayed for the second half of the conference.

“I was moved by the creative and thoughtful projects of my fellow classmates and also the lively dialogue that took place between the audience and presenters,” she said. “To see student work outside of the classroom, motivating thought and discussion, was amazing.”

She added that more students should go to these events.

Michaela Daystar, ICL Coordinator and one of the conference organizers, said, “It is clear that Mills women are actively creating social change, even as they work their way along their own educational paths.”

Daystar, WLI Director Daphne Muse and WLI Program Assistant Lynnette Arnold helped organize the conference.

Elinor Davis is Michaela Daystar’s mother and a freelance journalist.