Four high-achieving College of Saint Benedict seniors came together Tuesday night (March 14) for a frank and enlightening discussion on the benefits and challenges that come with occupying positions of leadership as women on campus.
The panel discussion sponsored by CSB’s Sister Nancy Hynes Institute for Women’s Leadership was held in the CSB and SJU Multicultural Center in Murray Hall on the CSB campus.
The panelists were:
- Kate Fenske, managing editor of The Record as well as a student coordinator for the Eugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement and a Peer Resource Program coordinator. She also is a former member of the CSB Student Senate.
- Aidan McLoone, operations manager at the Clemens Perk coffee shop in CSB’s Clemens Library, a student assistant coach on the CSB track and field team and a former representative on the CSB Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
- Mary Ridgeway, a team captain on the CSB swimming and diving team and president of the CSB and SJU pre-dental club.
- Taja Longley, the first generation coordinator at the multicultural center and the former news director for Johnnie/Bennie Media.
“As a leader, I’m very conscious about being open-minded and creating an environment where the people who work beside me, or people I’m trying to support, feel comfortable coming to ask questions,” Longley said. “Not feeling like they’re being ridiculed or they have to get it right the first time.”
Among the many issues the panel discussed was the importance of having mentors and role models to look to in their first years on campus. Fenske spoke of getting to know the then-president of the CSB Student Senate, a senior who was also her orientation leader and bio lab teaching assistant.
“Having her as a role model was great,” she said. “She found out I was a political science major and told me I should run for Senate. She said it would be good for me and I’d be perfect for it.
“Having someone to push me to run for that – to take that chance my (first year), literally only a month into school, was really helpful. I’ve tried to emulate that (as a junior and senior).”
“One of the main jobs as a leader is to inspire leaders underneath you as well,” Ridgeway added. “So that they grow and can fill your shoes one day. That’s how you continue to make a campus and a community better.”
The group also spoke of the satisfaction that comes from developing confidence as a leader and helping to make progress possible.
“The position I have is not something I’ve ever done,” said McLoone of her role at the Perk. “It’s not something I’m used to. But it’s been really enjoyable to struggle through it a little bit because I’ve learned a lot about myself as a leader.”
“For me, it’s seeing progress over time,” Longley said. “Just being able to come in and build on a legacy. You might not even complete the goal. But to add to it even just a little bit is a very satisfying feeling.”
The four also addressed the pressure women can sometimes feel to push and prove themselves – something referred to on campus as the “Busy Bennie Syndrome.” They also spoke of the need to make sure they are taking care of themselves.
“You feel like you have to justify self-care and taking a step back,” said Longley, who later addressed the added pressures that come with being a woman of color, as well as an international and first-generation student.
“I struggle with that to this day. Even over spring break, I felt wrong doing nothing. My mind wouldn’t allow me to just relax. I’d think ‘Oh, I have this to do. I have that to do.’ But the truth is I was burnt out and just needed time.”
“I think sometimes as Busy Bennies, we forget to take that step back, look at everything you’re doing and give yourself a little pat on the back,” Ridgeway added. “You are managing so many things at one time. There’s so much going on in life. It’s OK to take a week break and feel burnt out. But also to remind yourself that I did all this. I accomplished all this.
“Just remember to appreciate that and take it all in. No one has to tell you that. You can do that for yourself.”
But each of the panelists agreed there is something exceptional about the number of things their fellow Bennies are able to accomplish during their time on campus.
“Being able to look at your friends and all the cool things they’re involved in and the ways that they lead is really great,” Fenske said. “A lot of times, it gives you the opportunity to experience things you wouldn’t normally. But it also gives you role models in your day-to-day life.”
“Just the idea that Bennies are involved in so many different things is really cool to me,” McLoone said. “All of my friends are in something different. Half of the times, it’s stuff I didn’t even know existed.
“But there are so many opportunities here.”
And the panel said those opportunities are helping prepare them for whatever comes next.
“I feel like I work a full-time job at the multicultural center,” Longley said. “I’m always in there every day. And I think that’s really preparing me for what a corporate or office setting will be like. What work-life balance is like and how to get along with co-workers even if you don’t always see eye-to-eye.
“Those are real-world skills you don’t realize you’ll need until you’re actually applying them.”
“(In interviews for grad school), they’ve asked me questions and I always felt like I had something to talk about just by being a Bennie,” Ridgeway continued. “We’re so involved here.”
CSB seniors (from left) Taja Longley, Kate Fenske, Mary Ridgeway and Aidan McLoone discuss being student leaders with moderator Annie McGuire during a panel discussion on March 14.