The XXXI to host She Leads Conference


Photo courtesy of Shana Oshinskie

Kinsley Centers | @kinsleycenters, Staff Reporter

The XXXI will host the She Leads Women’s Lifestyle and Leadership Conference on Friday, Jan. 31 from 5:31 to 8:31 p.m. in Russell Hall. Those who attend will hear from keynote speakers who will give advice and share their experiences in the workplace.  

Across campus, the faces of three women peer out from light-blue circles. They stand with hands on hips or arms extended, their lips curving into knowing smirks. These posed poster girls beckon students across campus to register for an event that The XXXI has been organizing for months.

The XXXI, a women’s honorary on campus, is one of the first all-women’s honor societies. The group aims to recognize women and their leadership within the University, the city of Tuscaloosa or the state of Alabama as a whole. Members are nominated by active XXXI members and alumni.

The She Leads Women’s Lifestyle and Leadership Conference will be an evening where women can come together to share empowerment stories, learn from each other and network among professionals in the community.

The conference, held every other year, will offer a panel of women speakers who act as role models personally and professionally. These women will share their experiences and challenges in the workplace and share advice on how to overcome them.

Each year The XXXI focuses on a new goal driven by the priorities of its members, and this year the 31st order decided to focus on outreach and empowering women on campus. This year’s She Leads Conference is the centerpiece of the group’s efforts.

Sara Ferguson, a senior majoring in biology, is the president of the UA chapter of The XXXI. She said women can sometimes be unsure of themselves, but the She Leads Conference provides the presence of role models students can look up to and learn from to feel confident to pursue whatever their dreams are.  

“I think the overarching message that I want to send to students and faculty who are attending [is] empowerment and confidence,” Ferguson said. “Whether that’s one topic that related to them or they felt something in every topic that related to them, that when they leave the conference there’s a newfound confidence to either pursue something they have been putting off or just further acclimation in whatever they are already pursuing.”

Shana Oshinskie, a senior majoring in American studies and graphic design, is an active member of The XXXI and serves on the She Leads committee. During the process of finding speakers, they sought to bring in those who will have valuable perspectives for attending students, Oshinskie said.

There will be seven speakers at the conference. Nicole Hampton, an attorney and UA alumna, will kick off the evening with her keynote speech. There will then be two rounds of breakout sessions with varying topics of discussion. To end the night, speakers will be a part of a panel for a Q&A session with students.

“We really wanted to think about what actually is important to a college woman and how can we create a night that helps amplify and empower the voices of college women and give them a space to learn from other professionals and to learn from each other,” Oshinskie said.

An assortment of topics will be discussed such as diversity, equity and inclusion, the glass ceiling and entrepreneurship. The XXXI has put together a panel of speakers that come from diverse backgrounds who have all made contributions in one way or another to the University, to Tuscaloosa or to Alabama.

Oshinskie is an employee of one of the speakers, Audrey Vermilyea, who is the owner and co-founder of Monarch Espresso Bar. Oshinskie said seeing a woman in business and watching the way that she leads with such tenacity and grit inspires her.

“I wanted to amplify people like her who have worked so hard and contributed so much and make such a valuable community space for Tuscaloosa,” Oshinskie said.

Oshinskie wants women to leave the conference feeling less alone and to know they are surrounded by a team of people that face common struggles with them. She hopes those who attend will look to these professional women and see a way that they too can succeed and find fulfillment personally and professionally.

“I’m really hoping that She Leads will be an opportunity for women to kind of realize that we are facing a common set of problems, but together we can come up with a common set of solutions that works to amplify the voices of all women and improve the quality of personal and professional life for women everywhere,” Oshinskie said.

Alexus Cumbie, a senior majoring in business management and political science, is an active member of The XXXI and a part of the planning committee for the She Leads Conference. Cumbie wants those who attend to listen to the trials and tribulations the speakers will share and learn they are not alone.

“It’s a universal feeling, but it’s also something that all of us have an equal share of responsibility to not only alleviate that feeling but just supporting each other, and if there is anything I want people to know specifically is that they can do it, too, and being a woman doesn’t prevent us from doing anything,” Cumbie said.

A woman will undoubtedly face challenges when she embarks on a journey alone, without other women to support and empower her along the way, Ferguson said. As cliche as it may sound, it takes a village to encourage her when she’s down, as well as a generous dose of confidence and an individualistic mindset.

Ferguson said the conference will give all students the opportunity to further their knowledge regarding common challenges women face in the workplace.

“I think we’re just moving into a greater awareness of what it means to be a woman leader, and not only from a perspective of women understanding that but really everyone in a workplace understanding that women are equally as equipped to be leaders,” Cumbie said.

Though the conference is aimed at women’s issues, it is open to anyone on campus. The attire is business casual. To RSVP for the free event, visit The XXXI’s Instagram bio (@thirtyoneua).

Editor’s Note: Savannah Bullard, The Crimson White’s Editor-in-Chief, is a member of The XXXI. She did not contribute to the writing of this story.