Barger Leadership Institute fellows do a case study in global feminism

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 - 9:44pm

Psychology Professor Dr. Ram Mahalingam speaks to the Mindful Leader Program on the importance of servant leadership at the Barger Institute Wednesday night.

Psychology Professor Dr. Ram Mahalingam speaks to the Mindful Leader Program on the importance of servant leadership at the Barger Institute Wednesday night. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

Ramaswami Mahalingam, director of the University’s Barger Leadership Institute, spoke to students Wednesday night about the role of global feminists in leadership. Mahalingam explained different theories of leadership to the group, switching between his lecture and conversation with the group.

Mahalingam presented to advanced fellows in a BLI pilot cohort called the Mindful Leader Program. In order to become involved with the BLI, all members enroll in a one-credit leadership lab. Upon completion, they are afforded the opportunity to become BLI Leadership Fellows. Following an initial fellowship, students are given the option to either coordinate a capstone project or take on more advanced fellowships.

Compared to the nearly 200 students pursuing a capstone project, this mindful leadership cohort of only six students is much more specialized and intimate. Business junior Kevin Liu is one of the mindful leadership fellows and was in a different advanced BLI fellowship last year. He said the mindful leadership program is different from any of his prior experience.

“It’s about journaling and reflection and generally being mindful of our action,” Liu said. “This is a very small cohort because it’s a pilot program. This is a lot more time commitment.”

Mahalingam is an assignment contributor at the Global Feminisms Project, a digital archive of personal narratives chronicling the experiences of feminists in seven different countries across the world. According to Abigail Stewart, co-director of the Global Feminism Project and professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University, said the project’s two main goals are to aid teaching and research.

“The teaching uses and the research uses both have been very broad,” Stewart said. “So there’s no disciplinary limit to the different kinds of uses they can be put to.”

Following Mahalingam’s presentation, the group delved into a discussion of the content from the archives.

Mahalingam felt it was important for students to look beyond the pre-formatted images of leadership that are taught in a classroom. He encouraged the cohort to challenge the ideas they previously held about what a good leader looks like.  

Abigail Stewart, director of the Global Feminism project and professor of psychology and women’s studies, said that the ideas presented change the way society thinks about leadership.

“It changes the way you think about leadership,” Stewart said. “So that instead of having in your head a lot of images of lots of heads of state who have been men and who operate in a very formal, official way, you might have a very different idea of what leadership is like if you look at these women.”

According to Stewart, these women and their work are not confined to feminist causes. They are examples of multi-faceted leaders with extensive and varied expertise.

“Many of them are active on many other issues beyond their women’s movement activism,” Stewart said. “These are people who … have an intersectional understanding of issues and are drawn into many different kinds of activism.”

The Global Feminisms Project makes a conscious effort to take a comprehensive sample of global leadership. Beyond their activism, Stewart also described the project’s interest in diversity concerning other demographics such as generation, region, race and ethnicity. Each had a unique story to tell, and each was distinctively compelling. LSA junior and Mindful Leader Fello Christiana Cromer described a refreshing sense of hope after hearing the stories.

“You can get so stuck in the microcosm that is the University of Michigan or the United States of America,” Cromer said. “And this exercise reminded me that I can kind of feel re-energized by people so far away from me.”

LSA sophomore Olivia Chen is another one of the fellows. She explained she often feels like a bad feminist, but explained she is working toward a more intersectional perspective and appreciates the conversation BLI organized on the topic.

“I guess I’m fairly new in the discussion about feminism,” Chen said. “I do like to watch a lot of things. It’s so big in the news now, but myself just participating and vocally just doing something and taking action, that’s all relatively new to me.”

LSA senior Sally Amilcar, a Mindful Leader fellow, said she also wishes she knew more about feminism. Though she is a Women’s Studies major, Amilcar still views her feminist self as constantly growing and adjusting.

“I think I wanted to continue to work toward raising my feminist conscious, and I think that encompasses having a mindful perspective,” Amilcar said.

Mahalingam said the presentation was entirely rooted in shifting perspectives. He said the women in question were so powerful because of the genuine stories they told. They offered their perspective to the world in an impactful way.

“It’s so obvious that this is their life,” Cromer said. “And you just trust them.”