“Inclusion means more than just being at the table,” said Marsha Mays-Bernard referencing Martin Luther King’s famous quote. She is JMU’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Multicultural Services, the keynote speaker at this year’s Madison Leads Conference, held Saturday, February 10th in Madison Union. Her attentive audience knows this well—these young leaders are already at the table, and they’re ready to make a difference in their organizations.
The Madison Leads Conference is an annual event designed to help students gain skills and confidence to enrich their organizations and selves. Held by Student Activities & Involvement and Fraternity & Sorority Life, this event is open to all students, regardless of their on-campus involvement or academic year.
Some students return more than once, like senior health sciences major Azure’ Minor, who said, “I got a lot of great things about how to become a better leader, so I decided to do it again.”
While the workshops available to students varied greatly in content and form, the focus of the conference was multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusivity. Led by members of the faculty and staff here at JMU, the breakout sessions included such varied topics as mindfulness, ethics, and social media. Some sessions taught specific skills such as meditation, circle facilitation, or leadership soft skills. Others took a more philosophical stance, working through ethical dilemmas, challenging students to incorporate values into their leadership, or examining the importance of service in leadership.
Students in a session held by Kathleen Sensabaugh, JMU’s Coordinator of Restorative Practices, learned through experience how to use circle discussions in their organizations to build community and facilitate important conversations. A talking piece ensured that students listened to what others were saying, and the calm atmosphere encouraged students to open up about their desires and ideals for leadership. This introspective group emphasized a desire to be sensitive to the emotions and situations of their organization members, as well as considering more practical concerns like time and money management.
The executive board for a new sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma, attended the conference together to learn skills that will help them lead and grow their fledgling organization. They praised a session on community leadership held by Steve Grande, JMU’s Director of Community Service-Learning, where they reframed their thinking about the organization’s required community service hours.
Junior marketing major Brooke Ducote shared her takeaways from the session: “If you’re doing community service, why are you doing it? Being a leader, you need to think about not only yourself, but other people’s needs and perspectives.” She went on to share the sorority’s increased resolve to “[do] something that’s meaningful to you and not just doing it to get your hours.”
Several session facilitators throughout the day emphasized the importance of listening to hear, not simply to respond, and the participants clearly took that to heart. From the thoughtful questions presented to the keynote speaker—”How do we deal with people who are antagonistic to our goals of inclusivity?”—to the reflective silence while other students spoke in the workshops, this crowd showed a strong dedication to respect and understanding.
Jada Cox, a junior hospitality management major, put it best: “We’re all people at the end of the day […] sometimes it’s hard to include emotions in business atmospheres, but it’s just as important.”