Cal Students Attend the 1st Annual DEI Student Leadership Conference

California students travel to Edinboro to learn and grow as leaders.


Sarah Seader

Image from Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 DEI Student Leadership Conference. PennWest California Students (from left) Astere Nshm, Jahneek Fant, Nyiah Alderman, Anai’ya Jones, Alexis Wright, Darrek Harshberger, Bria Allen, Savannah Dorsey, Brandon Hebda, Adam Luther, and Sarah Seader.

Sarah Seader, Editor-in-Chief

On Saturday, Sept. 10, several California students traveled to PennWest Edinboro for the first annual PennWest DEI Student Leadership Conference. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion based conference had several breakout sessions and guest speakers throughout the day. Students from all three campuses; PennWest California, PennWest Clarion, and PennWest Edinboro were in attendance at the conference.

The main focus of the conference was to make sure PennWest resembles all of its students across the three campuses. PennWest University President Dr. Dale said, “PennWest is for everyone. If we don’t take steps then it’s all just talk.”

One speaker, Venus L. Ricks, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, focused on what it truly means to be a leader. Not just within the word itself, but in one’s actions and how they lead with those around them. Ricks prompted the audience to question their leadership and how it is benefiting or affecting those around them.

“You don’t make it with a position. What you do in that position makes you a leader,” said Ricks.

Ricks focused on the idea of leaders continually evolving and adapting in not just situations, but in life as well.

“If we are not empathetic, we will not be impactful,” said Ricks.

The common theme throughout the conference was making sure to reflect on oneself and one’s leadership. This included adjusting perspectives to empathize and understand others while also adapting to lead through adversity.

Another talking point was how the university’s faculty and staff have led as an example to its students. One of the Presidential Graduate Student Leadership Fellows, Jada Smith, from Clarion said, “they (the faculty) believe in something you can’t see in yourself.”

In addition to talks from various presenters, there were also workshops throughout the conference. One workshop, Envisioning Diversity at PennWest University; An Appreciative Leadership Workshop was led by Dr. Terrence Mitchell. Dr. Mitchell is the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Pennsylvania Western University.

His workshop focused on paying attention to the different layers of leadership. He also prompted the audience about needing to know the answer for what diversity is for you and thinking about who is asking the question. The workshop also discussed having dreams as leaders and wanting to expand on those dreams.

“I don’t believe you can dream too much,” said Dr. Mitchell.

After lunch, Justin James, the advisor of the Black Student Union (BSU) on California’s campus, moderated the Alumni Panel. The Panel was composed of alumni from California, Clarion, and Edinboro. As the alumni spoke about their experiences with leadership and diversity, the audience was encouraged to ask questions.

“You don’t even know the power of your presence until your presence is the key,” said Dr. Anthony Kane, an alumnus of California and current Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at St. Vincent College. Dr. Kane when he was a student California, helped to start the club Men United which also helped Women United to become a club on campus.

“Leadership is not about power, but influence. Hold yourself accountable and have people that support you,” said Dr. Kane.

After the alumni panel, students were split into groups. One group was the Student Leaders Roundtable, which included student who were the President or Vice President of a campus club or organization and they were able to share their experiences. Another group opportunity was the Building Bridges Session, which focused on being comfortable and willing to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As the eventful day drew to a close, students were left with the idea that equality is great, but equity is going beyond that to make sure everyone has the capacity to lead and succeed.