About 100 people from the University and surrounding communities gathered in Lynchburg on Saturday for a women’s leadership conference — and the late Rosel Schewel ’71 MEd, ’83 EdS, civic activist and champion for women’s rights and justice racial. Three panels preceded the highlight of the day: the keynote address by world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni.
The day-long conference, co-hosted by Virginia Humanities, began at Schewel Hall’s Sydnor Performance Hall and concluded with a reception in the Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom, where attendees – mostly women – also gathered for lunch.
The lunch break was accompanied by a video presentation on the legacy of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer by her granddaughter Shaun Hester-Spencer, director of the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum.
In her welcoming remarks, President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar said Rosel embodied the three pillars of the University: leadership development, innovation and collaboration, and diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.
“We are agents of change, and as women we change lives every day,” Morrisson-Shetlar said.
Rosel’s daughter, Susan Schewel, a nurse and women’s health activist, agreed. “This conference brings together so many things that my mother was passionate about,” she said.
References to Rosel as someone who spoke up and gave others a seat at the table popped up throughout the day. Several of the speakers mentioned her as an essential mentor and cheerleader for their own careers.
“I could never say ‘no’ to Rosel, which is why I’m here,” Lynchburg City Mayor MaryJane Dolan said.
Panels included “Considering Women’s Leadership”, “The Long and Winding Road: Women Leading in Democracies”, and “Women and Political Leadership”. Panelists included a number of business leaders, government officials, Lynchburg University professors and a student.
Student Government Association President Claire King ’23 joined the first panel, along with Christine Kennedy, COO and Executive Vice President of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance.
Dr. Paula Youra, professor of communication studies and director of the University’s Center for Professional Communication, and Laura Hamilton, executive director of the Lynchburg Beacon of Hope, also participated.
All four agreed that providing others with a seat at the table, as Rosel did, is central to leadership. But, Youra added, “Don’t wait your turn…talk if you have something to say.”
The second panel included Dr. Sabita Manian, associate dean of the school of social sciences, and Dr. Ghislaine Lewis, co-chair of African studies and director of the city’s Pierce Street Gateway, as well as Dr. Cheryl Jorgensen-Earp, a retiree professor of communication studies, and Dr. Nichole Sanders, professor of history and former John Franklin East professor of humanities.
All four have featured famous women leaders in democracies, from the Caribbean to Latin America, from former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to British suffragettes – and Queen Elizabeth II.
The final panel brought women’s leadership back to the local level.
“You don’t have to wait for the right time in your life to get involved,” said Jennifer Woofter, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Lynchburg.
A former Capitol Hill employee, she cited 20-somethings who were writing legislation behind the scenes at the state and federal levels.
The panel also included Dolan and Kelly Johnson, legislative aide to the Virginia House of Delegates, and university trustee Julie P. Doyle, a former member of the Lynchburg City School Board.
Jane VanBoskirk ’70 performed the solo piece “Everything I Ever Did Was Accomplished Across a Barrier of Fear: Eleanor Roosevelt”.
Overcoming fear also played a central role in Giovanni’s speech. She referenced a number of current and historical events and people, including Rosa Parks and Queen Elizabeth II, Giovanni said “we need to stop being afraid” and realize that “not everyone is not against us.
“We have to define ourselves in an inclusive way.”
Not being afraid also means taking risks, said the recently retired Virginia Tech professor. “What’s life if you don’t make mistakes? It means you haven’t done anything.
As for herself, she added: “I only have my words, but whatever it is, [I hope] I did my best with my words.
Giovanni ended his speech with two of his poems, “Ego Tripping” and “Quilts”.
Joan Foster ’69, ’70 MAT, ’85 MEd, University Board member and former mayor of Lynchburg, joined Schewel, Morrison-Shetlar and Gibson for closing comments.
Rosel, she said, taught her that “an educator can really make a difference in a person’s life,” recounting her teacher’s impact on her while studying medicine in Lynchburg and beyond. of the. As with Dolan, it was Rosel who encouraged her to enter politics, Foster said.
“How blessed my life has been to have a teacher, a mentor, and most importantly, a friend named Rosel Schewel,” she said.