The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government and administrators, including interim president Andrew Agwunobi, highlighted the importance of student mentorship at a panel on Black leadership on Tuesday in the student union theater.
Dr. Willena Price, the African American cultural center director, talked about what mentors have done for her in her life and how important it is for students to be mentors themselves.
“It’s that confidence that people had in me as a person. My parents, my next door neighbors… my pastor, my first grade teacher… All of these people cared about me, and this is why it is important for us, for you to invest in other people. Speak into other people, elevate them, lift them up. Give them what you have inside of you and share it, because it makes a difference,” Price said at the panel.
Agwunobi echoed this point on mentorship, considering the potential impact more mentorship would have had on his own development as a leader.
“If there’s one thing I would do differently if I was to do it all over again, I would have more mentors, and I’d keep them longer,” said Agwunobi. “When I look back at the mistakes that I’ve made, if I’d just had someone I could have talked to that knew more than me and had been there before, I would not have made that mistake.”
Attorney Eboni Nelson, dean of UConn Law, highlighted her own experience in mentorship, having been a teacher’s assistant under Senator Elizabeth Warren while at Harvard. She also celebrated the moderator and main organizer of the event, seventh-semester student Josie Hamilton, for her effort as Nelson’s mentee.
“A mentor-mentee relationship is exactly that: a relationship. So, you have to take the initiative, and you also have to be an active player in being a mentee, so that the mentor is engaged with you. I’m proud to say that Josie is my mentee. She reached out… asked if we could talk and it has been a great relationship since then,” Nelson said.
Agwunobi, the first person of color to serve as UConn’s president, commented on how this event, a town hall featuring seven Black leaders, signifies progress in diversity, equity and inclusion.
“What you see sitting here today is part of the change,” said Agwunobi. “These kinds of changes that are important.”
Nelson, the first Black dean of UConn Law, represents a new generation of Black leaders at UConn, having come into the position in July 2020. Also on the panel was Dr. Lloyd Blanchard, who has been UConn’s associate vice president for budget, management and institutional research since 2018. Newer to the UConn leadership team is Lakeesha Brown, who was hired this past September as the assistant vice president of human resources at UConn Health.
Dr. Frank Tuitt, UConn’s chief diversity officer who has been in his position for just over a year, commented on the resistance rising leaders should expect. He said that leaders should accept pushback, as that means they are doing their job.
“Pushback is a perfect indicator if we’ve been doing what we’ve been invited to do,” said Tuitt. “Pushing institutions, systems and structures shows where an institution is in its journey towards becoming more inclusive”
Letissa Reid, UConn’s Title IX coordinator who entered her position in August, said she hopes to continue fostering leadership through events such as this.
“Opportunities like this make me feel like I’m doing the work, that I’m on the ground, cultivating our future, which is you all,” said Reid.
Michael Aisevbonaye, vice president of UConn NAACP and a seventh-semester mechanical engineering student, spoke about the inspiration he felt from this event and how it affected other student leaders.
“The road to leadership is tumultuous, so this was incredibly impactful to me and my peers,” said Aisevbonaye in an interview following the event.
Michael Christy, chief diversity officer of the Undergraduate Student Government, whose office organized the event, spoke in an interview about the importance of involving all students in mentorship relationships with administrators.
“It shouldn’t just be student leaders that have access to ask administration the hard questions to feel welcomed at UConn; it must be all students,” said Christy. “This event was an important step in cultivating those more honest and direct relationships, but there is so much more work that needs to be done.”