Mount Holyoke student Quanita “Q” Hailey ’14 successfully headed the College’s First Annual Women of Color Trailblazers Leadership Conference (WOCTLC) this past Saturday. The event aimed to “empower, provide leadership development and networking opportunities” to female students of color at MHC as well as students from the Five College Consortium. Kianga Bunch-Thompson ’14, one of the students in attendance and a friend of Hailey’s, remarked that the conference was “a great way to bring all the women of color, from all the Five Colleges, together,” adding that the event was conceived “not only for black students, but also Latina, Asian and Middle Eastern students as well, so that we can feel inclusive.”
Approximately 60 people attended the event, which was held in the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center. Guest speakers included Naima McQueen ’11, Kymberly S. Newberry ’16, Dean of the College, Cerri Banks and student representatives from MHACASA, La Unidad, APAU and C.A.U.S.E. Also in attendance were Associate Dean of the College, Rene Davis, Assistant Dean of Students, Latrina Denson and President Lynn Pasquerella.
In line with the event’s theme of trailblazing, Hailey’s planning and organization paved a path for women of color in the Pioneer Valley to come together in order to discover resources and create a matrix of support. Hailey reflected on her inspiration for facilitating this gathering in a message in the WOCTLC’s program. “It is my vision that this conference will provide a space outside of political correctness and provide real life experiences of women who have blazed trails in a world where their skin tone creates a natural barrier,” she wrote.
Hailey came up with the idea for a conference focusing on women of color in leadership after she realized that there was not an annual event like this targeted to racial minorities on campus. For her, something was missing. She acknowledged that there were various speakers who the College brought in each year, “but there [was] nothing specifically set for us each year. So I wanted to fill that void that I felt was missing myself,” related Hailey.
The model that most inspired Hailey was Bay Path University’s Women in Leadership Conference. According to the Bay Path website, “This extraordinary annual one-day gathering is the premiere women’s leadership event for networking and educational information in the region.” The conference hosts internationally recognized speakers working in a variety of fields. Hailey mentioned that she reached out to Bay Path’s event coordinator as she developed her own conference.
“The planning started last year,” Hailey commented. “I sat down over the summer and spoke with my aunt and planned the whole thing with her.” Hailey shared that her aunt, Tina Maria Hailey, had worked her way up to third in command at the Fortune 500 company Procter and Gamble with only a high school diploma. She proudly added that her aunt had received her bachelor’s degree in 2006.
However, after her aunt’s death this past summer, Hailey did not believe that the WOCTLC would happen. “We planned the whole thing [one] Saturday, [my aunt] went to the hospital that Wednesday and died 30 days later,” Hailey said. “I kind of gave up on it. I came back in the fall and Dean Davis [asked] ‘what’s going on with your conference?’ I [said] ‘I’m not doing it. It’s done.’”
A discouraged Hailey shared with Dean Davis that her aunt had passed away. Hailey recounted how Dean Davis had encouraged her to continue on with the conference. “I had everything planned. [Dean Davis said] ‘this needs to happen’ and kind of coaxed me back into it. Things just…progressed from there.”
The WOCTLC was held in memory of Tina Maria Hailey. Eventually, Hailey hopes to establish a scholarship fund for a student of color at MHC in her aunt’s name. “This is something that I’m very committed to, giving back to this campus,” she said.
Everyone who attended the conference on Saturday felt Hailey’s tremendous efforts. Students and administrators alike relayed that the atmosphere of the event encouraged an open, honest dialogue in a supportive community.
Samantha Campagna ’14, a participant in the conference, discussed her motives for attending the event along with several of her friends. “I’m a bi-racial, Latin white and my mother was from Cuba. So I did have a different experience from those who are African American, whose skin color is darker than mine, but I went because even if I don’t have a lot of the immediate problems that many students face, I wanted to help those who do.”
The main speakers at the event, Naima McQueen ’11, Kymberly S. Newberry ’16 and Dean Cerri Banks provided valuable insight. Hailey raved about their contributions to the event and enjoyed the various ways in which the speakers approached their subjects. Companga agreed, “the speakers were really approachable and [understood] Mount Holyoke[’s] essence. It’s very nice to ask people who’ve been [at] Mount Holyoke ‘how do we network with people who look different from us?’”
The WOCTLC set up networking tables in a variety of fields including non-profit, business, the arts and law, where students were able to ask questions about navigating their way through these different career paths. “There was also a panel [where] we asked general questions to speakers and alums like how to get in their field, how to have work or internship experience, if they have advice for us, and other large spectrum ideas,” shared Campanga.
Campanga also mentioned that the event united women of color as they were able to share their experiences. Similarly, Selena Cardona ’17 emphasized that “the event was definitely an eye-opener for women of color on this campus. It definitely reminded us that we aren’t just part of the overall Mount Holyoke sisterhood but a sisterhood of color as well.”
Bunch-Thompson recounted the moment when Cerri Banks was introduced, and she thought to herself, although Banks is the Dean, “[As students], we don’t know much about her, so I [felt] like she came out of nowhere.” However, when Dean Banks “shared her personal story of being a woman of color in such a high position, [Bunch-Thompson] just felt like [she] could relate to her.” Banks spoke of the discrimination she faced based on preconceived stereotypes about what a Dean is supposed to look like. However, despite adversities, “she never gave up, and she knew what choices were right for her, so I really related to that story, you know, looking at my experiences,” Bunch-Thompson explained.
So far, the response Hailey has received has been overwhelmingly positive. Multiple people have already approached her about next year’s WOCTLC. In order to make sure future conferences run smoothly, Hailey has gathered a group of students who hope to become a student org next semester. They will act as liaisons on campus for Hailey, who will graduate this spring.
Hailey is planning to hold the WOCTLC in Chapin next year and to open the conference up to students from the Five-College Consortium. She also wants to have the WOCTLC organization plan other events throughout the year. “I want it to be something that is active, not just a once a year thing,” she said.
For the WOCTLC’s first year, the event impacted many MHC community members in a very positive way. President Lynn Pasquerella also attended the WOCTLC and praised the event’s focus. She commented, “The conference provided the opportunity to celebrate trailblazing women of color like Hortense Parker and to take stock of the ways in which our diversity at Mount Holyoke strengthens us all.” Bunch-Thompson added that one of the best moments of the conference was when Newberry told the students to “go out there and eat the world.” Bunch-Thomspson laughed and further explained that Newberry urged those in attendance to be bold in their actions and that “even if you get shot down, don’t be afraid to go out there and take chances, because you never know who is going to help you.”
Additional reporting done by Erica Multon ’14, Editor-in-Chief, and Shell Lin ’17, Contributing Writer.