In March, Mercy College held its fifth annual Women’s Empowerment Conference, titled “Women Catalysts for Change: The Journey of Women to Empowerment.” For the first time since its inception, the conference was held virtually to ensure the safety of speakers and participants.
Sponsored by a special grant from the President’s Office, the conference was divided into two half-day segments. Mercy Professor Abby Hirsch, who headed the 14-person coordinating committee, said that
last year’s event was fully enrolled and ready to launch when the pandemic hit, forcing them to cancel. “But having a year to plan for the 2021 event allowed us to engage some wonderful presenters,” Hirsch said.
Day One, held on March 12, featured a panel discussion in the morning, moderated by Lucinda Cross ’14, CEO of Activate Worldwide. Panelists were Tiffani L. Blake from the New York Institute of Technology; Rev. Viviana DeCohen ’16, M.S. ’18, Commissioner of the Mount Vernon New York Veterans Service Agency, and Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, a physician and healthcare advocate and former political candidate. Each panelist described the challenges she had faced on her journey for success and meaning in her life.
In the afternoon, a powerful and thought-provoking keynote address was given by Ilyasah Shabazz, a daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Among the questions asked by attendees was, “How can we as men support your movement to empower the next generation?” Shabazz drew on her experiences as the child of not one but two powerful change-makers for social justice, along with her tireless advocacy of issues such as higher education for at-risk youth.
Providing attendees an opportunity for some spiritual reflection, Karen Reed, from the Student Counseling Center, treated participants to a live yoga session. Later, a short video created by Mercy to honor Women’s History Month offered inspiring examples of women who have fostered change.
Day Two of the conference was held on March 19, dividing participants into breakout rooms for workshops on creativity, workplace challenges, unlocking potential, and life balance. Early returns of a participants’ survey sent out by the committee reflected many positive impressions.
“I think we had a great program this year,” said Hirsch. “The panelists had wonderful stories to tell about where they started and what they’ve achieved without benefit of any entitlement. That always resonates with students.” One message she hopes people will take away: “How to stand up for yourself to get a seat at the table,” said Hirsch. “I really hope people walk away with that.”