The 10th annual Women’s Leadership Conference, hosted by the Auburn University Women’s Center was held Friday, March 25 at The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center. This year’s theme was “Resilient Women,” with workshops and discussions on the ability to overcome adversity and become a successful woman leader. The conference kicked-off with a discussion panel open and free to the public at 6 p.m. Thursday night. The panel consisted of Dr. Julia Charles, Associate Professor of English at Auburn University; Ashley Edwards, Auburn alumna; Kim Evans, ovarian cancer survivor; and Meg McGuffin, Miss Alabama and Auburn alumna. The panel gave an opportunity for each woman to tell her story of resilience, with open discussion to follow.
The New Women’s Center logo. Source//Emily Hedrick
On Friday, the conference began at 8 a.m. with registration, then a welcome and opening session, followed by a coffee break. At 10 a.m. workshop session I began with the option to attend “Inclusive Leadership”, “Strand by Strand: Detangling the Myths of Hair Care”, or “Mindfulness – A Path to Optimal Health and Well-being.” After the 45 minute session and a fifteen minute break, workshop session II started, offering “Can Men be Feminists? And if so, how?”, “WE.Auburn – Be the Dot. Be the Difference”, or “Professional and Life Planning.” At 11:45 a.m. everyone shuffled into the ballroom for the conference luncheon.
Dr. Donna Sollie, Assistant Provost for Women’s Initiatives and Director of the Women’s Center welcomed the attendees to the latter part of the conference. As everyone was seated, a delicious honey-Dijon chicken with mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots was served with a dinner roll as the main course and a lemon cheesecake with strawberry topping for dessert. Sollie took the stage and spoke about the name change from the Women’s Resource Center to simply the Women’s Center and the new logo. She asked the little sisters from junior high and the big sisters from Auburn Young Women Leaders Program to stand and be recognized, as well as the conference planning committee, the conference and awards committee, the Women’s Center advisory board, and the Women’s Center ambassadors.
Next, Dr. Mitchell Brown, presented the awards for Women of Distinction. The leadership awards went to Sara Rains (undergraduate), Lauren Gilmore (graduate), Barbara Yates (staff), Jennifer Jarvis (Administrative and Professional Staff), Angela Burque (faculty), and Lela Lofton (alumna).
The attendees enjoying lunch service. Source//Emily Hedrick
Maryclare Mastriano, co-chair of the women’s leadership conference, made her way to the stage to introduce the keynote speaker Elizabeth Huntley. Huntley is an Auburn alumna, Board of Trustees member, attorney and author. She began telling her story; coming into a life with parents as drug dealers, her father going to jail and her mother taking her own life soon after. Huntley and her sister were split up from her other siblings and went to live with their grandmother who strongly believed in four things; you mind your elders, you go to church, you stay clean and you get an education.Unfortunately, in Huntley’s new home she was sexually abused and again her innocence was taken from her. She went to preschool and thrived in an environment made for children, where she felt happy and carefree. She learned quickly that by “being smart” and well behaved in school she was rewarded. Days off and summer vacation were the worst for Huntley because of the trauma in the household. Huntley loved school and was brought up knowing education was important, so she kept school as a priority. She excelled in her classes and ultimately graduated from Auburn University, became an attorney and has written a memoir on the struggles she faced and the way she dealt with them to make her the woman she is today.
When Huntley finished, she received a standing ovation from the attendees. “Her vulnerability was so powerful,” said Auburn student Kayla Warner, “she is a testament to resilience.” Closing remarks were made and the conference dismissed at about 2 p.m. Mary Isbell was doing photography for the WLC and has attended some capacity of the conference for the past six years. “I love the Women’s Leadership Conference because it is a great opportunity to hear inspirational women from around the nation speaking on what it means to be a woman in today’s society,” she said.
Young Women Leaders Program bigs and littles with keynote speaker Elizabeth Huntley. Source// Victoria Hoehn.