The Intersect Conference planning committee aims to fill rooms throughout Elon University’s Moseley Center Nov. 13-14 with powerful voices seeking to identify, narrate and celebrate their truths.
Intersect Conference is the university’s annual leadership and diversity conference for students hosted by the Center of Leadership and the Center for Race, Ethnicity & Diversity Education. Clint Smith, the main keynote speaker for the conference, inspired this year’s theme: “Tell your truth.”
Smith is an educator, poet and activist known for several recitations, lectures and presentations, including a TED Talk where he recited one of his poems, “The Danger of Silence.” In the poem, Smith highlights the ways in which telling their truths empowers the students he has worked with.
“I think that the idea of leading with vulnerability is something so important and powerful, and telling your truth is the way to do that,” said sophomore Olivia Ryan, Intersect Conference co-coordinator. “It’s all about being honest about your experiences and thoughts and encouraging others to do the same.”
Ryan said Smith’s poetry resonated strongly with her and the entire Intersect Conference planning committee, reverberating beyond the computer screen they watched the TED Talk on.
“His perspective of being a teacher gives him an interesting look at what it means to be a leader, considering his leadership in the classroom,” Ryan said. “All together, I hope students are encouraged to tell their truth and live honestly [from Smith]. I hope they are also given a new perspective on race issues in America and are driven to make change where they can.”
More than 125 people have already registered, with a majority of registered students hailing from Elon and others from regional institutions, including High Point University, Warren Wilson College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Registration is still open, and all students are encouraged to register. Participation is free for all Elon students, and registration includes four meals: a dinner during the first keynote speaker, a dessert during a social networking event following the dinner and breakfast and lunch on the following day.
According to Ryan, there will be six workshop sessions and two keynote speakers, L.D. Russell, senior lecturer in religious studies, Friday night and Clint Smith Saturday. During each of the workshop session, students will be able to choose from four workshop titles, each representing and honoring “tell your truth” — the conference theme — diversity, leadership and the event’s four pillars: power and privilege, oppression, social change and organizational development. The pillars were chosen in 2012 as elements of the “intersection” between diversity and leadership, and they stay consistent for every Intersect conference.
One workshop Ryan is particularly excited for is a presentation by Jodean Schmiederer, associate dean of students for leadership and honor code.
“She will be talking about how simply engaging with others’ differences is not enough to fully learn, you must also do a critical reflection,” Ryan said. “I hope that students learn [through this workshop] to gain a better understanding of other people’s perspectives and how they can better lead and make change at their universities.”
Intersect is a product of two previous conferences in Elon’s history. One of those events was the Diversity and Leadership Conference, which was created in 2009 through the Multicultural Student Council, a group that existed under the Multicultural Center (now the Center for Race Ethnicity and Diversity), with a mission to assemble students, faculty, and professional staff from the university and the surrounding community for engaged learning.
The other was the Leadership Development Institute, which was created in 1997 through the Center for Leadership by Rex Waters, dean of student development, and John Barnhill, former director of the Center. The vision was to help students create and maintain sustainable organizations by providing intentional time and resources to improve the leadership transitions in organizations. In 2012, they were united to form “Intersect Conference,” to further the intersections between leadership and diversity at one event.
“Intersect provides a context for students to discuss topics that can easily make people feel uncomfortable,” said Dana Carnes, Associate Director for the Center for Leadership. “We all have pieces of our identities that make us both privileged and oppressed and talking about it can be difficult.”
Carnes said student leaders on campus need self-awareness and the ability to create social change to develop their organizations.
“Together, these intersectionalities of leadership and diversity create space for crucial dialogue and learning,” Carnes said.
Ryan said the convenience of the conference and its status as a powerfully unique experience at Elon should both be reasons for students to go. She also added that the conference highlights the talents of Elon’s faculty, staff and students while also giving students the experience of meeting and mingling with students from different institutions who share a common interest of diversity and leadership education.
“But most importantly, no one will know about your unique experiences unless you tell them honestly,” Ryan said. “And Intersect is a platform for that.”