The Planning of the Black Student Leadership Conference
the importance of having a voice that matters
By Kathy Pierre, University of Florida
This year, I was on the Black Student Leadership Conference committee at the University of Florida. The James E. Scott Black Student Leadership Conference has been on the campus of UF for the past eleven years and is named after James E. Scott. Scott was a Dean of Students at UF in 1981 and the Vice-President of Student Affairs in 1999. He blazed a legacy on the campus of the University of Florida for black students and in 2002, the Black Student Leadership Conference began through the Institute of Black Culture on campus. It’s always held during February, so that it can be a part of the Black History Month celebration at UF.
The purpose of the Black Student Leadership conference is to cultivate young, black student leaders on campus. The conference brings together students from all over campus, of all majors and all class levels to one place to learn more about the resources that the university has to offer to students who are leaders, who want to be leaders or who feel like UF doesn’t have the resources that would allow them to be leaders because it’s not the case. We discuss social etiquette, professional development, resume building, and accepting diversity, among other things.
My Role in the Institute of Black Culture
I began as a student ambassador to the Institute of Black Culture in the fall semester of 2012. The entire reason why I began to work at the IBC is because I attended BSLC my freshman year in spring 2012. The whole conference was inspiring to me. The keynote speakers were a married couple who were both amazing and intriguing in their own rights. Once they began to speak and feed off of each other’s energy, they were able to inspire everyone in the audience and teach us the different ways that we could begin to excel as Black students. The conference my freshman year was such a pivotal moment in my college career, now that I look back on the experience. The people I met and things that I’ve learned have come with me, even now in my third year of college. And I remember speaking to the director of the IBC after the conference that day to ask him how I could become a part of the planning process for the 2013 conference.
So when I started working at the IBC, I jumped at the opportunity to be on the committee for the 2013 leadership conference. We started planning in the middle of October and it’s a good thing that we gave ourselves that much time because there’s much more than I ever would have thought that goes into planning a conference. Keynote speakers, session leaders, cosponsors, venue, food, volunteers and budget were all things that we had to consider and vote on as a group.
Focus Groups and Themes
For this year’s conference we decided that we would create a Black Male focus group because there were so few Black men participating in anything, especially not in the conferences year after year. We gathered a group of Black male students and asked them what they wanted to see. We recruited Black male graduate students and faculty from across campus to lead sessions and just have a presence that Black male students would recognize so that they’d know that this conference wasn’t just for women, but there would be parts of it that were specifically and exclusively for men only.
The theme this year was, “Reclaiming the Legacy”. It focused on the concept of Sankofa, an African theme that means going back to fetch your history and past. It is very similar to the old adage about not knowing where you will be going if you don’t know where you came from. It is very often depicted by a bird reaching its head back to get the egg that’s on its back. That was the symbol that we used on many of the marketing things that we gave out and it became our brand.
Being a member of the conference committee this year was at times stressful, involved waking up extremely early on a weekend, and allowed me to see the conference from a completely different viewpoint, but I would not have traded that for anything. Because I had such an amazing experience through attending the conference my freshman year, including meeting and learning from so many different people in such a small time frame, I want to continue paying it forward and I want to ensure that students that continue to come after me are given the tools that the Black Student Leadership Conference gave to me. I want to continue to be involved with the conference for many years to come, so that I can have a voice in the matters of the conference.