“Wise, wonderful, witty” women meet for leadership summit

Ninety W&L women spend a weekend at Hotel Roanoke to discuss the importance of women’s leadership

Virginia Kettles

“You are all wise, wonderful, witty women.”

These are the words of Kim Ruscio, who spoke at the Women’s Leadership Summit held at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center Jan. 15-16. It was a chance for undergraduate students to freely talk to and connect with women faculty and alumnae.

“It’s great because I was able to interact with upperclassmen women in a way that was exclusively focused on interactions between lower and upperclassmen women,” Diana Banks, ‘17, said. “I got exposed to a lot of really fascinating and powerful women alums and professors.”

After first being introduced in 2009, the summit originally consisted of W&L undergraduate women and staff celebrating the history and culture of women’s leadership, doing leadership-building exercises and providing opportunities of mentorship. As the years went on, women alumnae began to join the meetings as well, providing their own stories and advice for the students. The summit occurs every two years.

Anna Russell Thornton, ‘16, presented on how one’s sex determines their subsequent treatment and socialization. Afterwords, students were free to discuss their own views of how such actions influence women and leadership.

Robin LeBlanc and Erika Hagberg, two alums of W&L, held a panel and answered questions in regard to women in the workforce and shared stories of leading with confidence and competence.

Lisa Greer, the head of the Geology Department at W&L, was one of the facilitators.

“I’ve always been interested in promoting and mentoring women at Washington & Lee. I’ve also struggled with trying to understand what leadership means, and the other forms that leadership takes. So I wanted to learn from this as well as facilitate.”

On Saturday the women participated in different breakout sessions, which ran from conversations of cultivating support and respect to combating feelings of fear, failure and vulnerability. Small groups then came together so the upperclassmen women could give advice to the underclassmen women.

“Our women are so smart, and they continue to show how smart and brilliant they are,” Tammi Simpson, associate dean of students, said. “A critical piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask questions. If you see someone that’s doing something you admire, whether that be a professor or a student, don’t be afraid to approach that person. Speak with them, get to know them. You’d be surprised at some of the advice that they have, and the friendships and relationships you could form while you’re here at W&L that can carry you through the rest of your life.”