2018 Women’s Leadership Conference Focuses on Media

Raven Hudson ’21

Staff Writer

The Women’s Leadership Conference sought to educate and empower women about their roles in and influence on society. Photo by Cayce Blackley.

In the wake of the 2017 Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and the #MeToo movement, this year’s theme of “Women in the Media” at the annual Katherine M. Bray Women’s Leadership Conference (known as WLC) seemed providential. It became even more so as the conference’s co-chair Mary Catherine Thomson ‘18 announced that 2018 marked both the 10th anniversary of WLC and the 45th anniversary of co-education at Davidson. The conference takes its name from Kathy Bray ‘85, former Associate Dean of Students and an avid supporter of the program.

Lasting from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., last Saturday’s event featured four speakers, including Anna Katherine Clemmons Clay ’01 as the keynote speaker. Its structure consisted of three workshop sessions led by the three remaining speakers; this setup differed from previous years, where the conference was conceived as a thematic keynote speech followed by two break-out sessions that covered a variety of topics.

During previous conferences, participants could go to one of five discussions, each located in a different room, for the first break-out session. For the second session, five more discussion options were offered. After receiving feedback, the conference committee decided to make the experience more cohesive by having all the participants experience the same lectures in the same room. As another innovation, students received free tickets to the conference thanks to the sponsorship of Weinstein Properties and Bexley Apartments. Summit Coffee and the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development also sponsored the conference.

Of the four speakers, three had associations with Davidson: two being alumni and one a current Davidson professor. Nevertheless, the speakers had varied experience in different areas of media: broadcast, print, academia, and production. According to the co-chair Katherine Maultsby ’18, the purpose of this year’s theme was to teach its attendants to become conscious creators and consumers of media; “how we interact with and react to media is a form of power.”

In her keynote address, sports journalist Clay provided personal stories of challenges on the job and some discouraging statistics about women in media, advised over-preparation, and taught power poses.

Dr. Maggie McCarthy, a member of the German department, led a workshop on how to close-read an episode of Girls. Theatre and film producer Donna Scott spoke on responsibility and identifying one’s own spheres of influence; she gave participants the beginnings of the basic tools needed to, as Scott described, actively work towards “the world we want to see.”

Former television reporter and the only woman of color presenting at the conference Courtney Ward ’04 echoed Clay’s sentiment of the benefits of being over-prepared, especially as a black woman. Ward also advised the audience to “be discerning … Don’t just believe what’s on social media.”

But how should people do this? Clay suggested being aware of the words used to describe women. Meanwhile, Scott advised purchasing and supporting media that is created by and accurately represents women. Although Scott boldly stated that participants would not “be able to not be critical or to unlearn what [they had] learned” at the conference, she did not offer techniques for evaluating a work’s representation beyond noting the “character types” (characters who are women, older, or of color) it does or does not have.

All three workshop leaders emphasized the importance of solidarity in moving forward. Ward advocated for calling out what you know is wrong and mentoring other women.

Overall, the conference aimed to make participants “more well-prepared to be more intentional when engaging with media,” which Maultsby described as being the event’s primary goal. Thomson concluded, “The fact that this conference still occurs means that our work as women is not done yet.”

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