The Center for the Education of Women + hosted its second CEW+ Advocacy Symposium on Tuesday. This year, the theme centered around “Redefining Leadership,” and the symposium schedule comprised keynote speakers, development workshops and a roundtable discussion. 

The center supports the University of Michigan community by providing events, workshops, counseling, as well as scholarships and emergency funding to help individuals with unplanned and emergency situations. The goal of CEW+ is to empower women and underserved individuals to help them reach their full potential.

According to CEW+ Director Tiffany Marra, CEW+ first launched the symposium to empower students, staff and community members to advocate for themselves when faced with a lack of resources, training, and supportive community.


During her opening speech, Marra highlighted the different leadership styles the symposium explores.

“There’s no single definition of leadership — there’s no one way to lead,” Marra said. “Today’s symposium will challenge normative ideas of leadership, and our presenters will provide alternative models of leadership that you can look towards for inspiration.”

Marra and Carmeda Stokes, a Senior Training Manager for University Human Resources, announced the launch of the COUNTS Toolkit for Students Success in partnership with the Council for Nontraditional Students and University Human Resources Organizational Learning. The Toolkit is an online module that provides training and resources to help participants become more aware of the different experiences and challenges students face on campus. 

“It’s designed for student-facing staff to provide them with resources and tools to enhance how they support students on campus,” Marra said. “We’ve defined 19 different groups that we are promoting that need a little more attention and visibility to break down the ‘Leaders and the Best’ kind of model that everyone has in their mind about what it is to be a student here.”

Counselor and Program Coordinator of CEW+ Morgan Hull spearheaded the development of the Toolkit.

“The focus of the topics that we select for the Toolkit are based off of the trends that we hear from the COUNTS group, from nontraditional students that we see at CEW+ and others that we hear across campus,” Hull said.

For this rollout, the topics include the imposter syndrome, as well as basic needs on college and wayfinding on a decentralized campus. The COUNTS Toolkit is live on Canvas and is open to all University staff and students.

The symposium included a keynote panel featuring Shannon Cohen, founder of Shannon Cohen, Inc., and Stephanie Land, author of “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive.”

Cohen spoke about her experience with a lack of racial diversity in communities and professional environments. Cohen emphasized the importance of discussing diversity in the employment practices of companies. 

“One of the ways my advocacy plays out is that organizations are recognizing that those brands and organizations that will be visual, valuable and vocal in the future must reconcile this space of how they engage and build authentic relationships with one another,” Cohen said. 

Stephanie Land read excerpts from her book, which detailed her accounts of being a single mother living in poverty. In the past, she worked as a housekeeper for the wealthy and was on welfare to cover necessary expenses. 

In response to a question asking the pair what inspired them to keep pushing forward, Cohen called on the strength of advocates of the past and expressed her gratitude for the progress past women have made. 

“I know that I am my ancestor’s wildest dream,” Cohen said. “I literally know that I am because of the resilience of other women, specifically for me, my mother and my great grandmother … I know that I could walk on this campus today because someone did the uncomfortable.”

Land answered the question by first noting the implications of low socioeconomic status. 

“I ended up falling into a niche of poverty and social economic justice,” Land said. “It was incredibly unnerving to admit that I was in that situation because society made me feel like a complete failure in the last decade, just because we often look at people who aren’t ‘making it’ as people that aren’t working as hard.”

She said once she started writing online, she began to see a community form around her, urging her to continue sharing her story. 

“I realized that there wasn’t really a niche for first-person narratives that came from impoverished situations, because poor people can’t afford to write about their lives, and they can’t afford to find mentorship or access to publish,” Land said. 

Today, she said she is motivated to help people in low income households speak up about their experiences. 

Rackham student Andrew Gilroy said he was inspired by Land’s perspective. He said he attended the symposium on behalf of the Coalition on Temporary Shelter in Detroit, where he interacts with a lot of women, children and people of color. By attending the symposium, Gilroy said he hoped to learn better ways to support them in the homeless shelter. 

“I think hearing the stories that they provide really provide a different perspective that people often don’t hear,” Gilroy said. “I’ve never been in poverty, and I’m not from a marginalized population, so being able to hear that perspective changes the way people think. I really think it’s helpful to hear that, because you can make better decisions when interacting with people from those populations.”

Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated Stokes’ job title, how CEW+ emergency funds are used, and that the symposium is annual.

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