November 04, 2022

The Wild Road to WILD 2022: the Leadership Behind a Leadership Conference

When the Women’s Resource Center was dissolved in 2016, the Women*s Initiative for Leadership Development (WILD) conference went with it. Back again now for its fourth year, resurrected by Women*s Student Services (W*SS), the annual WILD Conference will light up the Union Nov. 6 with interactive workshops and powerful speakers once again.

“In 2019, [when Women*s Student Services was first established] our entire charge was to bring back the WILD Conference,” says Assistant Director of W*SS, Gabby Wahla. “We got so many excited notes when we brought it back in 2019, and it was a super successful event.”


“This has been the fourth WILD conference our office has planned, and it just keeps getting better year after year,” shares W*SS Director Dr. Heather Shea. “The work we put in on the front end – I think it led to a very rewarding experience.” 

The theme of this year’s conference is Amplify: Community, Culture and Collaboration.

“The idea behind ‘amplify’ is really aligned with what we see in social justice movements broadly, and that is finding ways to amplify and center the voices of those who are most marginalized and bring community leaders and activists to the various tables to have them be a part of those conversations,” says Shea. “When we put out the call for proposals to have workshop presenters, the workshop presenters could pick one, two or all three of those subthemes of community, culture and collaboration.”

The theme, speakers and all other aspects of WILD have been put together during a series of eight workshops starting in September and running weekly until three days prior to the conference. 

“Some of the workshops really directly talk about the way we need to build communities of support; some of them are talking more about cultural aspects of what it means to engage within a leadership model when all of the components are about collaboration,” says Shea. “The workshops are created and distributed by the staff and the chairs.”

The staff consists of Graduate Assistant Makenzie Morales, Co-chairs Ashleigh Lowe and Joslyn Miller, and team members Maddie Leaver, Millie Nevelos, Jada James, Noihrita Masud, Bella Lopez and Jordyn Bradley. “We have a really good retention rate, so it’s great to watch these students start out as sophomores and end with their senior WILD Conference,” says Wahla.

Everyone helps in the selection of the presentations. “We look through the different sessions and the proposals, decide if they meet our theme and if we can see where they might go with it and if we feel it’s up to the caliber that we’re looking for the conference,” says Wahla. The process allows students to gain more leadership and event planning experience. “In the past we haven’t done it that way, we kind of let them present what they were going to present,” she adds. “This year we’re trying to be way more collaborative.”

The planning workshops are guided by two books: “Emotionally Intelligent Leadership” by Marcy Levy Shankman, Paige Haber-Curran and Scott J. Allen and “Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements” by Charlene Carruthers. 

“Each week they put together a really great half an hour to 45-minute discussion based on one of the aspects in either of the two books,” says Shea. Half of the meetings are dedicated to feminist leadership lecture-style content and the other half is reserved for planning the conference. “I think the best part about that is we weren’t just sitting around trying to figure out what color T-shirts to get; we were also engaging in our own leadership development.”

“When we started the WILD curriculum for the planning committee, we wanted to make sure the planning committee was getting leadership skills alongside with planning the conference,” says Wahla. “Those sessions have been really interesting, and we’ve had some great conversations at them.”


One of the opportunities W*SS is presented with is keeping the WILD curriculum current and inclusive to represent the student population. Wahla says their team works closely with potential presenters and contributors and workshop their content. “Equity, in itself, and feminist leadership are always evolving and changing, so we want to make sure we’re supporting everybody so that we’re on the same page. We wouldn’t want anyone to use outdated terminology; we want to make sure everybody is receiving good support to be the best presenter they can be.”

“Our conference tries to be and works toward an intersectional feminist lens, an anti-racist lens and really thinking about ‘how do we bring everybody along on this journey,’ knowing that everybody might be entering that conversation from different places,” says Shea. “We want leadership to be seen as inclusive and connective and a part of a community that values equity.”

“We want to make it more intersectional. Obviously with ‘women’ in the title, it does feel limiting for some people, so we have an asterisk in our name to complicate that you are more than just your gender in this space, and feminist leadership styles aren’t just for women,” says Wahla. 


This year’s keynote speaker is civil rights activist Dolores Huerta. Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers union with Cesar Chavez, as well as founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses on educating voters and supporting small, grassroots movements. 

“I can’t even put into words how much I have adored learning about Dolores Huerta and all that she’s done for migrant farmworkers. I just think she’s such an inspirational person,” says Wahla. 

With previous speakers including Gretchen Whitmer, Elissa Slotkin, Debbie Stabenow and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the W*SS team is no stranger to hosting influential figures. In addition to these high-profile names, the directors both said they want the focus to be on the students involved with and attending WILD. 

“It’s not just about bringing in outside voices, it’s also about learning and engaging with students who are here,” says Shea. “There’s lots of great leadership initiatives happening on campus and we have a lot of wisdom within the student body, too. That’s why we had an open call for proposals students could submit as well as the student keynote.” 

 “We have a very diverse population of students that attended WILD: we have freshmen through seniors, we have grad students, we have community members and lots of alum that come, too. It’s really cool to see people network and see the connections that come from this,” says Wahla. “I hope these sessions make the students feel like they were able to network.”

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