Students Focus on Black Leadership

June 10, 2008 — A University of Virginia student participating in the Black Student Alliance's Emerging Leaders Retreat, held last weekend, asked associate dean of students Leonard Perry if the values and principles he outlined in one session were just for black people. He was glad she asked.

"No," said Perry, also director of student life at U.Va., "but they are born out of African-American experience, and they transfer very easily to other groups and settings."

Some of those values of which Perry spoke include the concept of extended family, along with respect and connectedness to elders in the community, he said. A commitment to civil rights is another example.

"I believe that any student who believes they will be expected to provide leadership within and/or for a black community should have an opportunity to explore and examine the topic of leadership and community development with a relevant cultural point of reference, given that everything around us does have a culture orientation," he said.

Perry, whose workshop was one of more than a dozen events held during the second annual three-day meeting held June 5 through 7, also brought up the idea last week in the University-wide Leadership 2008 program for students heading a wide variety of student organizations on Grounds.

BSA president Lauren McGlory, who spent the week at Leadership 2008, said 17 participants attended Emerging Leaders' workshops and lectures, designed to "help define and solidify their leadership skills … in a cultural context they can relate to and apply back, not just to black organizations, but to the University as a whole."

The information imparted in the Emerging Leaders program wasn't all new to the students — many had learned about this ideology in African-American history courses — but they reported that applying it to leadership in their daily lives at the University lent a new perspective, Perry said.

Black students sometimes don't think of how their cultural values relate to the majority environment they live in, Perry said.

Katerina Bruner, who said she is accustomed to being in the minority in white schools, said it was a new idea to focus on black leadership in the U.Va. environment, which is still new to her. A nursing student going into her second year, Bruner said she wants to apply what she learned to her field by addressing African-American health issues.

Tamara Lewis, a rising second-year student and moderator for Sustained Dialogue, said her majors — history and African-American Studies — and an overall interest in community relations that directly deal with the black community were her reasons for attending the Emerging Leaders Retreat.

She said she "learned from this retreat that the small things count in building community ties. Many facilitators and alumni often mentioned the importance of speaking to each other, being friendly and not forming cliques. Basically, the ability to be approachable is a very necessary, and often times, overlooked, skill of leaders."

Another student who attended the first BSA retreat last year and helped plan the event this year said she is "carrying the torch" in how to be a positive black woman in everyday life and in different roles. Tracey Fetherson, one of those enthusiastic students who come to U.Va. and get involved in too many activities at first, said she learned to tailor her leadership to what she is passionate about, and that's why she chose United Sisters. A co-chairwoman in the group, she said its goal is to foster closer connections between black women at the University, between this group and the U.Va. community as a whole, and with the local community.

Like similar conferences, the BSA retreat included discussion of leadership skills in general and exposed students to resources they might not have heard of.

"To be a good leader, you need to know how to use resources," Fetherson said.

The Emerging Leaders Retreat was sponsored by the Office of African-American Affairs, Office of Diversity and Equity, University Bookstore, Graduate Student Diversity Programs, Center for Undergraduate Excellence and the Alumni Association.