February 2, 2016

Fostering Leadership and Diversity

Students from 26 universities, including Southeastern Conference institutions, will attend the Student Leadership and Diversity Conference at the University of South Carolina
Students from 26 universities, including Southeastern Conference institutions, will attend the Student Leadership and Diversity Conference at the University of South Carolina

By: Megan Sexton (University of South Carolina)
SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

For 30 years, the University of South Carolina has brought together students around the region to talk about leadership and diversity. This year, students and faculty from across the SEC also will be part of that conversation.

Starting Thursday, student leaders, faculty and staff from around the Southeastern Conference will arrive at Carolina for the SEC Academic Collaboration Award Workshop “SEC Universities: Uniting Voices for Social Change.”

On Saturday, 530 students from 26 schools, including 210 from USC Columbia, and the delegates from the SEC schools, will attend the Student Leadership and Diversity Conference on campus. The Saturday event includes educational sessions focusing on everything from organizational budgeting to diversity dialogues, stress and time management to social justice activism. The conference offers a chance for students to engage in their own professional and personal development, but also to network with each other.

For students like Lee Goble, a junior English major from Gaffney, South Carolina, the opportunity to attend both the SLDC conference and SEC workshop offers the chance to learn from faculty presenters – and his peers.

“I hope I can learn more about other cultures and about the reasons why people feel so discriminated against. I hope I can learn what I can do to help combat that. We’ve made great strides, but there’s still work to do. This conference allows me to see what I can do,” Goble says.

Goble says he believes the state is the perfect spot for the conference.

“We’ve been a leader in South Carolina as far as civil discourse over the past year. Last June, when we had the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina didn’t react with riots, we came together,” he says. “I’m glad to see the university step up and be a leader in the conversation.

“If we can create a climate of civility on campus, one in which all of our students invest, I believe that students will take that investment and carry it with them far after graduation,” Goble says. “We have the opportunity to create the first wave of a positive ripple effect.”

As part of the SEC Academic Collaboration Award Workshop, 44 delegates, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, will examine current trends and challenges in leadership and civil discourse. The University of South Carolina was named the winner of the SEC Academic Collaboration Award in October.

Workshop presenters will be experts from the university and organizations around the country. Participants will discuss topics ranging from peer leadership, civil discourse in the media, freedom of speech and mobilizing for social change.

Valinda Littlefield, director of UofSC’s African American Studies Program and associate professor of history, will lead a discussion on the conference’s opening night titled, “Our Campus Climates: Fact or Fiction?”

“University campuses are one of the most important locations to exchange knowledge, debate issues and help the nation usher in a sustainable civil topography for a diverse society. Civility is much more than being kind or polite. Southerners wrote the book on both. Yet, one should understand that both kindness and politeness requirements by Southern standards have often been used to oppress,” Littlefield says. “Throughout history, one group requesting rights enjoyed by another group often resulted in intimidation and/or death. Helping citizens conclude that addressing social issues using a win/lose model sustains a disruptive system of never-ending counterattacks resulting in less civility. To be involved in this workshop allows me to be a participant citizen in a long-term process to collective understandings of barriers to and solutions towards ‘liberty and justice for all.’”