The Mount Allison Leads Committee, in partnership with Student Affairs and the Mount Allison Students’ Union, hosted the first-ever Sackville Community and Leadership (CAL) Conference on Thursday, January 17th, 2019, in the Crabtree Auditorium on Mount Allison’s campus. The conference highlighted three Sackville community leaders and three Mount Allison student leaders, who gave short Ted-X-style talks about their experiences with community and leadership. The open event was well attended by Mount Allison students and the Sackville community.
The idea for the conference was born when student leaders on campus were challenged to develop a creative way to bring together the Mount Allison and Sackville communities. They formed the CAL Conference Committee and worked through the Christmas holidays to collaborate with Mount Allison students and Sackville community members interested in partaking in the brand-new event. The goal of the conference was to leave audience members thinking about how they can create change and be leaders in their own ways, and this was thought to have been achieved.
The first student speaker, fifth-year Izzy Spinney from Charlottetown, PEI, spoke about her passion for being involved in the Mount Allison community since her first year. Through her various leadership roles on- and off-campus, Spinney described some of the lessons she has learned, including the importance of transparency and vulnerability as a leader, learning to cope with burnout if it arrives, and understanding that leadership does not always come with titles or labels. Her down-to-earth talk especially touched students who felt they could relate to Spinney’s past feelings of stress in leadership positions, caused by overwhelming commitments.
The first Sackville community speaker was Julia Feltham, a mom, consultant, freelancer, singing cellist who is passionate about the future of Eastern Canada and rural innovations. She explained her love for ‘Navigating Chaos’ – the theme of her talk – in terms of leaders who thrive when faced with many unknowns. As a lover of community economic development, Feltham also described her belief that Atlantic Canada can be exemplar of social innovation and resilience. She works hard to prove just how strong the people of the Atlantic Canadian region are when it comes to leading by example.
The next student speaker was first-year Eli Wood from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Passionate about amplifying the voices of marginalized groups, he emphasized the importance of intersectional and anti-oppressive leadership. According to Wood, leaders must acknowledge and use their privilege to strengthen the voices of others, especially through knowing when someone else’s narrative may be more appropriate than their own. He also, however, noted the dangers of including marginalized groups for the sole purpose of labelling a group, organization or workplace “diverse”. This is a form of discrimination, called tokenism, in practice. The goal of Wood’s talk was to communicate how one can be more inclusive in leadership.
Sackville community speaker Rev. John C. Perkin is an ordained minister and serves as Chaplain to Mount Allison since 1993 along with teaching in the department of Religious Studies. He shared his lived experiences of collaborative and engaged leadership, which seeks to address needs through service and commitment. One of his stories highlighted his work as one of the founders of the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, which he chaired for two years.
The final Mount Allison speaker was fourth-year student Shen Molloy from Kingston, ON who spoke about being an environmental leader in the Mount Allison and Sackville communities. She highlighted how climate change has the potential to drastically impact the Maritimes, and how strong leaders dedicated to creating a healthier planet are in desperate need. Molloy also shared strategies that everyone can implement in their daily lives to better care for the environment, such as avoiding single-use plastics and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. Her talk sparked a lively question period with insightful audience discussion.
The final speaker, Sackville community member Megan Mitton, MLA of Memramcook-Tantramar, asked the question, “Is Politics Cut Out for Women?”. The talk challenged the audience to consider the changes required to our political system so that more women can be included in local, regional and national politics. Mitton also acknowledged that there are other groups underrepresented in politics, such as LGBTQ+ community members, indigenous peoples, people of color, people with disabilities, and youth, but focused primarily on the on the lack of women in politics through describing her own political challenges. Mitton believes that politics is still very much a men’s domain, built by men for men, similarly to the original New Brunswick legislature building itself – which was originally constructed without a women’s washroom.
The number of women running in municipal, provincial and national elections and winning their desired position is disproportionately low. Mitton shared the discouraging realities that women face when they attempt to run for office. Many of her stories included direct criticisms and attacks for being a woman in politics. Being told she should be at home with her child when canvassing and questioned as to why she didn’t bring her child with her to work were a of couple examples that stuck with the audience. These types of comments and experiences are seldom directed at her male political counterparts.
Women and other marginalized groups are needed in politics and other leadership positions. Their voices are required to create the changes and programs addressing their own needs and priorities. The Sackville CAL Conference provided another opportunity to encourage others to work together in order take on the work needed to create healthy, inclusive communities benefitting all. The conference wrapped up with a presentation from Talia Steeves, a member of Toastmasters International who supported the event, and a gracious conclusion from Hannah Ehler, MC and Chair of the CAL Conference Committee. She, along with the rest of the CAL Conference Committee, was delighted with the turnout along with all the positive feedback from the conference. The committee hopes that the conference turns into an annual, inspirational event and is continued by Mount Allison students long after they leave the university campus.
Hannah Ehler studies International Studies/Relations at Mount Allison University in Sackville. She is originally from Wolfville, Nova Scotia.