Sometimes, I will have impromptu kitchen conversations with my daughters, Kyla and Kaiah. We will just sit on the floor and chat about whatever happens to be on their minds. As a parent, I am always thinking, I hope I am able to share something with them that is helpful.
What is interesting is, I am much more confident in the things that I have learned from them during those cherished engagements. They are among my most influential instructors, because they broaden my perspectives of the world by sharing their unique outlook as young women navigating their pathways through society. Their insights are brilliant, emotionally-intelligent and thought-provoking. I often share with my wife, only half-jokingly, not to let them know that they are already smarter than us!
Come to think of it, some of the most profound lessons I have learned have come from women that I have been blessed to know throughout my life. I recently shared during Medaille’s “Black Women in Leadership” panel discussion that someone once said, “Always try to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. That way, you will continue growing and learning.” The leaders on our panel embodied the wisdom of that quote during a two-hour conversation about creating community and navigating change in uncertain times.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I want to publicly acknowledge and recognize these women and share seven points of wisdom they shared with us. Let us hear from them in their own words:
- Deborah Watkins ’11, director of the Medaille College Albion Program, shared that the lockdown period during the pandemic has been good for us, because it has allowed us an opportunity to focus on what really matters. She said that this time of forced “stillness” created an atmosphere where we can really appreciate fewer distractions. “I was really able to see where the needs are and think about how I can help,” said Watkins.
- Director of Public Safety Debra Kelly talked to us about the importance of educating ourselves on the issues of the day, particularly in reference to social justice concerns. “Know what and why you are supporting something. Do not simply follow the crowd. Dig deeper, and do your research, so that you can make informed decisions,” said Kelly.
- Chief Assessment Officer Illana Lane, Ph.D., underscored the importance of being proactive rather than reactive towards our engagement of socio-political factors that are shaping the ethos of the country. “We have to recognize that our actions have global impacts. Therefore, we should focus on being more selfless than selfish. Change should be systemic and not momentary,” said Dr. Lane.
- Director of HEOP Shana Richardson highlighted how essential it is not to view our students from a deficit perspective but to celebrate their genius and recognize their unique gifts. “Let us not dismiss the wonderful skills that our students show by utilizing their time management skills to continue their schooling, work jobs and help create a sense of stability in their homes during the pandemic. While some students may have academic challenges, with the right supports and building on the strengths they do have, we can help them achieve,” said Richardson.
- Building on that idea, Director of Student Conduct and Residence Life Candice Cadena mentioned that the deficit model places the burden on the students rather than on the institution. “We have to be a student-ready institution, rather than simply expecting students to be college-ready,” said Cadena.
- Director of the Medaille College Say Yes to Education Program Michelle Sawyers challenged us to use our voices and actions to enact the changes we wish to see for our students. “The pandemic has truly highlighted the gaps in access to technology, education and healthcare facing our students. These areas have been exacerbated and amplified. And as change agents, it is up to us to equip our students, our families and each other to address those gaps,” said Sawyers.
- Finally, Executive Director of Academic Success and Persistence Tara Jabbaar-Gyambrah, Ph.D., encouraged us to be possibility-thinkers by allowing our curiosity to guide us to explore new and different paths forward. “What is the new thing that we can do to sustain higher education and prepare a future generation of leaders to walk in their calling and purpose? Students arrive here on campus, and they don’t know what to do. They are looking to us to help them navigate this environment. Listen to their stories, keep students first and empower them to live their best lives,” said Dr. Jabbaar-Gyambrah.
This is just a sampling of the thoughts and ideas shared during this rich and engaging discussion. I was simply happy to have been in the room to soak up the gems of wisdom.
I am going to close by asking you to do me two favors. First, please let each of the women mentioned in this piece know that they are appreciated and valued as members of the Medaille community. Second, the next time you hear any woman speaking, give her your full attention and truly listen.
Pictured left to right, top row: Dr. Illana Lane and Dr. Tara Jabbaar-Gyambrah. Pictured left to right, bottom row: Candice Cadena and Michelle Sawyers.