Before I returned to college as a re-entry student, leadership was not something I thought about. That changed in my first semester at UC Berkeley after I was invited to interview for the Leadership Award Scholarship given by the Alumni Association. Even after I won the scholarship I did not think about leadership or of me having a role as a leader in a direct manner because the community work I was being rewarded for was something I just did and thought of as service work. I am sure, however, that being granted the Leadership Award caused me to pay attention to the flyer on campus announcing the application for the Institute of Civic Leadership program (ICL), at Mills College. I applied to ICL not knowing what to expect, but since I had been newly recognized as a “leader” by the Alumni Association, I was in the frame of mind to find out more about leadership. It was not obvious to me how thinking about leadership, and identifying myself as a leader, could be important if I was already practicing leadership, but I have found that viewing my work and volunteer experience through the lens of leadership has dramatically affected the trajectory of my academic career and my plans for the future.
After spending the Fall 2008 semester learning about and discussing theories and practices of leadership in the Women’s Leadership Seminar taught by visiting professor Bernadette Chi, I understood why I had not been thinking about myself as being a leader. I was surprised that so many definitions of leadership and leadership styles have been identified and studied. I have expanded the scope and context of how I think about leadership, and I see how my past work and volunteer service closely aligns with some of the leadership models that we studied. Although we were encouraged to explore how different leadership styles or combination of them may or may not be ones that we identify within ourselves, unquestioning parroting of the coursework was not encouraged in this class. There were many lively, passionate, well-informed discussions, personal insights, and respectful disagreements.
ICL encourages women to explore their relationships to the practice of social justice and to incorporate them into their personal visions of the work they do now as well as their future plans. The indefatigable director Michaela Daystar has been a source of encouragement and support from the beginning. She, along with Judith Briggs (who I like to think of as the program’s godmother), gave personalized attention early on to each ICL scholar. This has allowed us to have an individualized experience that reflects our respective interests and goals within the overall framework of the program. The 2008-2009 ICL class began with eight women from different backgrounds, studying in a variety of disciplines. I am a Spanish major at UC Berkeley with a minor in public policy. One of my fellow students is majoring in international relations, and another is pursuing a double major of social welfare and international economic development studies. There is a double major of English literature and psychology and a woman whose area of study is French & Francophone studies with a minor in literary and cultural analysis. One interesting area of study that I had never heard of is food policies, institutions and cultures at Mills College and is the major of yet another ICL scholar. Although it is not unusual to find varied interests on a college campus, the ICL program is unique for assembling such a group of women to have substantive discourse around the topics of social justice and women’s leadership. I think that the program establishes a non-balkanized environment by not being major specific and is one of the reasons I wanted to participate.
This spring semester we are studying literature and social change with Mills College English professor Ajuan Mance. We are discussing and analyzing a variety of American texts relevant to some type of social change beginning with the Declaration of Independence. In addition to these two classes we have a leadership project, an internship, a grant-writing workshop and an individual mentor over the course of the program. Since I plan to attend law school, ICL has paired me with Judge Trina Thompson Stanley of Alameda County Superior Court and each student has a mentor that reflects their interests.
I came to the Institute of Civic Leadership following in the footsteps of other UC Berkeley students I knew who had completed the program. One of these students was an ICL scholar who mentored me during my college application process. Her assistance, encouragement, and willingness to share her experience of the pathway I was embarking on changed my attitude about what I was doing. ICL has been empowering in the same way. Since I began the program my approach to my graduate school plans has changed as a result of what I have learned. I am not just hoping for the best, but planning carefully and proactively for the concurrent degree program I want to be accepted to. My ICL experience has linked my past and present community work with my educational interests and future goals.
Last year after I was notified that I had been accepted into ICL, I was informed a week or two later that the program was being cancelled. My feeling that I would be missing out on an important experience was only intensified when I attended a meeting of current, past and potential ICL students and supporters who were fighting to save the program. I was impressed that former ICL scholars thought highly enough of the program to make time in their busy schedules to advocate for the benefit of future students. The meeting demonstrated real leadership being practiced and there could not have been a better example of a leadership program proving that it does, in fact, produce effective leaders. I encourage all Mills women interested in leadership to consider this program because of the support, and resources it offers and its relevancy to real world social justice work.
Esther Green UC Berkeley Spanish Major ICL Scholar 2008-2009