The 13th annual Young Woman’s Leadership Symposium occurred Friday, March 22. This event was founded and hosted by Dr. Marsha Lyle-Gonga of the Political Science department. This one-day seminar invited young women around the community to participate in a series of workshops aiming
to improve leadership styles and advocacy strategies.

This year’s theme was advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).  

A quote listed on the event’s program read: “In the United States, women represent 53% of the electorate yet are not represented proportionately in Congress, where they hold only 27.8% of the elected positions.”

Associate Professor of Psychological Science and Counseling Dr. Eva Gibson spoke about the importance of using the color pink to empower women. Despite the stigma behind the color, Dr. Gibson feels powerful when she puts on her color. She shared helpful steps to take in order to make daily
impacts on the world around you.  

After the opening talk by Dr. Gibson, the young women attendees had the opportunity to choose from a series of breakout workshops throughout the next three hours. These workshops were available in the conference rooms down from the ballroom. 

Out of the options for the first workshop was one hosted by LaNeeca Williams, the Chief of Institutional Culture here at Austin Peay State University. Her talk taught attendees how to lead with courage, vision, and heart in advocacy work. Williams opened with the heart-wrenching story about how she began advocating within the DEI community: her son was involved in a racially motivated hate crime.  

She used this experience to turn her pain into passion, and now shares how the toxic mindset of stereotyping leads to a lack of inclusion. Williams listed 10 qualities women advocates should strive to exhibit. She taught attendees to never underestimate the power of their actions, especially within DEI work.  

The second session of workshops included a talk by Assistant Professor of African American Studies: Ebone Amos. Amos explored the power of self-definition to fight against toxic narratives brought on by sexism, patriarchy, racism, and ageism. She taught that people must first learn who they are before accepting someone else’s idea of them.  

“How can I lead other people if I don’t know who I am,” she shared. “Make no assumptions about me please and make room for other people to say that too.” 

Amos shared that self-internalization of misogyny and racism can lead to a belief in those toxic mindsets. By creating your self-definition, you are resisting toxic viewpoints.  

The final session included a workshop led by Dr. Kathryn Woods and Dr. Melissa Kates, both professors within the Leadership Department. They explained how to look at various theories through a feminist lens, especially those taught within a college sphere. Woods unpacked the Authentic Leadership Theory by showing how six of the most influential philosophers within the field all look the same: older white men.  

By unpacking this theory further, it was shown that no women were involved in the creation or expansion of the idea of an authentic leader, and none of the known traits accurately represent women. Kates then shared the idea of questioning what students are taught, saying that scholars do not have to accept a misogynist education. She shared that many theories in academia are not properly representative of women.  

The lunch speaker was the Chair of the Political Science Department from Middle Tennessee State University, Dr. Amy Atchison.  

Atchison spoke about the dangers of advocacy work. She shared that people must advocate when and where it is safe for them to do so. She spoke of a recent study she was involved in where she noticed the hateful bias towards female professors, which became evident during evaluations. Atchison also
shared the importance of intersectionality, saying the concept made her a better teacher and led to her best advocacy work: creating an intersectional Political Science textbook.  

To close out the Young Women’s Leadership Symposium, Dr. Marsha Lyle-Gonga addressed what the attendees can do after the seminar to incite change.  

“If you want to be a leader, you must embrace learning every day,” she said.