Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium empowers students to pursue professional aspirations

Patricia Whitely did not become vice president of University of Miami Student Affairs overnight. After years of hard work, she became the first woman to take on the position and has dedicated herself to the role for the past 22 years. With her appointment in 1997, she overcame obstacles and prejudices to commence a new chapter in UM’s history. Since then, Whitely has built her career with the help of other women and made her mark on the university by aiming to inspire others.

“It’s been a very positive experience,” Whitely said. “I’m very honored to be one of the senior members of the university that also happens to be a woman.”

The Butler Center for Service and Leadership wanted to ensure that all women who wish to pursue professional aspirations are provided with leadership training and empowerment. It was with this reasoning that in the fall of 2012, the Butler Center established the Women’s Leadership Symposium, later endowing it in honor of Whitely in the spring of 2016.

Although the theme of the symposium changes every year, the purpose has always remained the same: to “provide an opportunity for young women to hear from women role models in the community and from around the country to talk about how they have navigated the corporate terrain, the non-profit terrain, and to hear from their wisdom and life lessons,” said Whitely.

“I am, She is, We are… Enough” was the theme behind this year’s symposium, which took place Saturday, March 30 and was open to all students. The event consisted of headshots of individuals in attendance, two workshops, an address by keynote speaker Christin “Cici” Battle, Executive Director of Young People For (YP4) and two sessions on lifestyle and wellness. Throughout the day, the 90 attendees, mainly women, participated in various events and activities.

“Overall, I really liked it,” said freshman biology and geology major Emma Weber. “It wasn’t like I was being lectured at, it was kind of like a conversation or like a discussion, and it was all really applicable. I enjoyed all of it.”

“My favorite part was the workshops,” said Torrey Mahall, a sophomore majoring in public relations. She particularly enjoyed the workshop that dealt with rejection, saying “that’s something every college student encounters and I learned helpful ways to process that.” Mahall also said she gained valuable skills in stepping up her professional wardrobe and navigating how to find a mentor who can help with her career.

“Through the workshops, I also learned how to find my underlying causes for burning out and how to reassess what I need to change in order to have a better overall well-being,” said sophomore Albany Muria, a public administration major. Muria was one of the networking chairs for this year’s symposium.

“I hope that people know they have numerous resources in and out of the UM campus to further their learning experience,” Muria said in regards to what she wants students to take away from the symposium. She specifically said that she hoped the young women who attended the event “learned that we all just need that boost of confidence to go after our goals” because women already have what it takes to reach their full potential.

Throughout the process of organizing the event, Muria was able to work closely with the Butler Center for Service & Leadership to advocate for women’s empowerment during a time when “we need it most,” she said.

“Future women leaders will be coming from UM, so getting to be part of the planning committee for the symposium was such a privilege,” Muria said.

Mahall and Weber both said they found the symposium profoundly empowering after listening to the workshop leaders tell their stories.

“It was important for me to see the powerful career-oriented women like I strive to be represented,” said Mahall. “I left feeling more united with other women and recognized that the challenges I face, I never face alone.”

Correction, 10:03 p.m., April 4: This article previously stated that Patricia Whitely assumed the role of UM’s Vice President for Student Affairs in 1977 and had been serving for the past 44 years. Patricia Whitely has been the Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Miami since 1997, serving for 22 years. The article also stated that the symposium had 50-70 attendees when in reality there were 90. Additionally, the article wrongly said Whitely established the Whitely’s Women Leadership Symposium when instead this was the work of the Butler Center; in Spring 2016 the Symposium was announced it would be endowed in honor of Whitely. The article has been updated to reflect this information.