‘Still, I Rise’: The 11th annual Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium

Whitely Women's Leadership Symposium planning committee poses following the event. Photo credit: Contributed photo

Surrounded by female trailblazers, students recently joined together to participate in informative workshops, network, and learn about women’s leadership in honor of Women’s History Month.

On Saturday, March 2, the 11th annual Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium was held in the Shalala Student Center. This year, the event revolved around the theme, “Still, I Rise.”

“All of you are committed to being here because you are going to rise up,” said Dr. Patricia Whitely, the senior vice president of student affairs and host of the annual symposium.

Since its initiation by the Butler Center for Service and Leadership in 2011, Dr. Whitely has been heavily involved with the symposium. The Butler Center was founded with the goal of being a catalyst for students to inspire social change, and the goal of the symposium is doing just that for female students.

“I think it is important to have space for women, who are up-and-coming student leaders at the University of Miami, to hear from role models that have had an interesting and challenging journey before them,” said Whitely.

After opening remarks from Whitely, students heard from Luisa Santos, a representative from District 9 on the Miami-Dade School Board for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Santos became fluent in English just a year after moving to Miami from Bogotá, Colombia, thanks to her English education growing up in Miami-Dade County.

Despite discovering that she was undocumented in high school, Santos persisted in her studies and went on to study at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“I thought I had it all figured out but realized there was a very limited path,” Santos said. “I had to not let this define who I am. I had to carve my own path.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to attend workshops ranging from personal finance to advocacy and activism.

The hosts of these workshops included advocacy groups and members of the student program, Enough. Established in 2021, Enough strives to create an empowering and uplifting community for women of color on campus. After being invited to the symposium for the first time this year, student leaders from the program hosted a workshop on imposter syndrome. Especially common among females and minorities, imposter syndrome is the experience of not feeling successful internally, even when performing very highly externally.

“I think Enough brings in people who are willing to learn and then they can go outside and teach others,” said junior Kevmely Antione, a member of the planning team for Enough.

Madison Rodas, associate director of multicultural affairs at UM, emphasized the importance of creating a space for women to have important conversations about what they are passionate about, and more importantly, how they can bring this to the rest of their community.

“You want to create the space for other women to come in and feel like they belong,” Rodas said. “The fact that there is a symposium that’s centering women is something that already attests to the fact that there are women that are wanting to create this space for you.”

The 11 female student members of the Whitely Women’s Leadership Symposium committee spent the entirety of the fall semester planning this past weekend’s symposium. The committee includes Ashley Babulal, Illiana Bennett, Sydney Corrodus, Marina Deane-Gonazalez, Zina Martinez, Leslie Diaz, Maggie Roberts, Krystelle Emogene, Eliza Lee, Keira Hamilton and Emma Tews.

“I came to the symposium my freshman year. It was so inspiring. During my sophomore year, I applied to stuff that I was lacking the confidence to do my freshman year. This year, I applied to be part of the committee. It’s a full circle moment,” said junior Sydney Corrodus, workshop chair of the symposium committee.

The symposium concluded with a networking event, where students were able to converse with female experts in fields ranging from law to psychology.

Ashley Babulal, a junior and the co-chair of the symposium committee, helped plan this event with the hope that women would continue to foster these skills in their respective communities.

“I hope attendees get an opportunity to network with women, along with being able to uplift and empower themselves,” said Babulal. “I hope this event builds a community of women back on campus.”