The week before the start of classes, on Friday, August 17, about 225 University of Lynchburg students gathered for the 8th-annual John G. Eccles Leadership Summit.
The day-long conference, named for a popular former dean of students at Lynchburg, was aimed at getting students out of their comfort zones and talking about hot-button issues like social justice, implicit bias, gender identity, and immigration. As conference facilitator Dr. Judith Springer put it, “We want you to be uncomfortable.”
Traditionally, the Eccles Leadership Summit has involved upperclassmen who arrive back on campus before classes start. This includes University Ambassadors, Connection Leaders, resident assistants and hall directors, Link Leaders, Bonner Leaders, the Student Activities Board, and Student Judicial Board.
Past summits have incorporated things like TED Talks by well-known leaders and hands-on, team-building exercises. “We try to change it up and give it a different flavor each year,” B.J. Keefer, director of student activities in the University’s Office of Student Engagement and Leadership Development, said.
This year, Keefer said, organizers wanted to “recognize what’s going on in our country” and also address “diversity and inclusion issues” that might be impacting the campus.
“We want them to be a community. We talk about it all the time,” Keefer said of Lynchburg’s student leaders. “What better way than to have our students get uncomfortable and have difficult conversations? They are the leaders on our campus. We want them to step that up a little bit.”
During the summit, students attended workshops on a variety of topics. At one session, “No More Drama: Using Restorative Practices in Social Justice Work,” students “explored their own comfort level with various dimensions of diversity that might be landmines for conflict.”
One of these possible pitfalls was recognizing the difference between intent and impact. An example given by workshop facilitator Jose Posos was stepping on someone’s toes while trying to help them get something off a shelf.
In that situation, your intent is to help the person, but you’re also hurting them. “My biggest takeaway was intent vs. impact,” Chris Betterton, graduate assistant in the Dean of Students office, said. “It’s not the same [thing] and can cause conflict.”
For the first year, the Eccles Leadership Summit was facilitated by an outside organization, The Ceceilyn Miller Institute for Leadership and Diversity in America, a nonprofit that specializes in leadership and diversity training. Also for the first time, freshmen on campus for the Summer Transition Program were involved in the summit.
Offered at Lynchburg since 1986, the Summer Transition Program is aimed at first-generation college students, students from underrepresented groups, and those who might need help acclimating to college life. Students apply for the program if they think it will benefit them.
“It’s a great opportunity to get them to mingle with upper-class leaders,” Annette Stadtherr, director of multicultural services at Lynchburg, said of the summit. “They get to know about resources and ways to get engaged, and get to know leaders on campus. What better way than an all-day leadership summit?”