SisterHOOD hosts Black Women Leadership Symposium

Eastern Michigan University’s retention and degree program, SisterHOOD (Helping Others Obtain Degrees) hosted a panel of four influential women of color who talked leadership strategies and solidarity to a room of about 30 women of color, Thursday night in McKenny Hall.

SisterHOOD created the event, Black Women Leadership Symposium, for students to engage in dialogue with other women about their leadership philosophy and acknowledge they can be a leader without a title.

“We created this symposium after trying to find a similar conference in the area, and in Michigan,” said higher education and student affairs graduate and intern for SisterHood, Tonal Simmons. “However, there wasn’t one that specifically focused on women of color. So, we decided to create one here.”

Founded by Reggie Barnes, the director of diversity and community involvement, SisterHOOD is designed to engage, empower, retain and graduate more females of color at EMU.

“I decided to intern with the SisterHOOD because I thought this initiative was important for women of color at a predominantly white institution. Often times there is not a space for us to come and talk about issues that are affecting as undergraduate and graduate students, and staff, who identify as women of color,” Simmons said.

The panelists included EMU alumnus, motivational speaker and activist Dorthea Thomas, director of the multi-ethic student affairs office at U of M, Trey Boynton, member of the Chancellor’s cabinet, Ann Lampkin-Williams and assistant vice president of student affairs at EMU, Chiara Hensley.

The event began with an introduction from another graduate intern at SisterHOOD, Bre Mckamie. She talked about the program’s background and mission and then led the group into an icebreaker where participants had to “speak their truth.”

Panelists then answered questions that were catered to them by SisterHOOD based on their experiences.

Thomas talked about her success after EMU, what leadership was to her and the three people that they will need in their life: someone to look up to and push you to leap forward, someone to walk with and someone to reach back to.

Negotiation tips was a popular discussion among the panelists and participants. Williams was asked about how to get a position and ace an interview.

“As a person of color you have to know your value and competitor. Know your value or you’ll be underpaid,” she said.

The other panelists also added to negation tips for women of color resulting in a full conversation.

“Women are paid less than men because we don’t ask for more,” said Boynton.

“Know who you are and who you are with because it will take you to great heights,” said Thomas.

Other topics of the night included balance, self-care and social justice.

The event ended with a closing keynote by the director of the McNair program and Professor of Literature, Dr. Heather Neff where she encouraged the participants to find allies and to be kind and help each other. There was also a reading of the SisterHOOD’s words of affirmation by the participants and panelists for women empowerment.

“I thought it was really good,” said senior career coach at EMU, Lorraine McKnight. “It’s a great place to feel positive. It had good advice.”

Simmons hopes to find SisterHOOD Ambassadors for the upcoming year and another women of color leadership conference

“I am happy to have the support and help of Bre McKamie and Danyell Bragg who are the other graduate interns for the SisterHOOD. This year has been amazing to lay the foundation for the years to come,” she said. “While I graduate this year I hope that the Initiative will blossom into the program that I have always hoped it become.”

Outside the symposium SisterHOOD has monthly dialogues on issues related to women of color and their experiences at a predominantly white college. Their next event is April 14 at Big Bob’s Lake House from 6-9 p.m. You can find them on social media or you can email them attsimmo13@emich.edu for more information.


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