“Mills is committed to empowering women to achieve their full potential.” This phrase and many others from the 2008-2013 Strategic Plan emphasize the College’s commitment to “education for leadership.” As a student fellow of the 2006-2008 Women’s Leadership Institute Roundtable, I am baffled by the paradox of how the College plans to advance this invaluable vision while simultaneously eradicating the very programs that are already working hard to grow students’ leadership capacities.
It seems undeniably clear to me that active leadership development is imperative if the College wants to succeed in its mission of helping students “acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to effect positive change.” So rather than receiving the recent decision to cancel WLI as an ending, I would encourage the campus community to take this as an opportunity to push for the development of a more comprehensive, campus wide leadership initiative.
To begin this conversation, I would like to offer insights gained from my experiences with WLI. When I first began the program, I was skeptical of the worth of leadership training, since the leaders that I had always seen at the head of my community and country definitely did not look like me and were far from inspiring. However, I soon came to understand that efforts like WLI are essential precisely because of this current leadership void. These programs can work to build new leadership paradigms – ones that are committed to activist civic engagement and true social justice.
In its wonderfully diverse student body, Mills has brought together the seeds of hundreds of future leaders. In order to maximize the engagement of all students in leadership development, the College will need to provide a range of ways for students to participate. Ideally, these would range from one-time service activities or workshops through to a fully established curricular leadership program, with numerous options in between. The leadership initiative should include both field-specific and interdisciplinary venues, as well as academic and non-academic formats. This wealth of approaches to leadership will not only facilitate the engagement of the largest possible number of Mills students but will also continue to allow students to question and challenge traditional understandings of leadership and to produce new frameworks better suited to our ever-changing world.
This vision may seem like an illusion, especially in the current climate of economic crisis. However, Mills currently has a number of programs which address leadership development from several points along this continuum and which should be seen as resources and models in shaping a more coherent leadership vision. In moving from the current configuration to a more centralized program, the administration needs to build on existing programs like WLI, which have constantly proven their effectiveness. As the response from Jennifer Smith and other WLI Fellows makes clear, the program has developed a working model that would be an important piece of a larger leadership initiative.
In the past three and a half years here at Mills, I have seen the College take on and overcome tremendous challenges. I have no doubt that the College can sustain and develop programming that will inspire and foster women’s leadership in new and exciting ways – if the entire campus community is engaged. So hold the College accountable to its stated goals! Write Provost Sandra Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your vision for leadership development here on campus. Get engaged! Exercise your leadership! It is what our mission calls us to and what our community, our nation, and our world need from us.
-Lynette Arnold, senior