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White encourages leadership, diversity at SMC

Megan O'Neil | Monday, March 6, 2006

At the closing dinner of the Saint Mary’s Student Diversity Board (SDB) Diverse Students Leadership Conference (DSLC) Vice President and Dean of Faculty Pat White encouraged attendees to turn to people such as Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King as examples of strong leaders.

White said he did not invoke their names simply because they were black women, although that fact played an important role in shaping their leadership styles.

“I call our attention to Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King as American leaders and American heroes because all of us, whatever our race, gender or ethnicity – even this gray-haired white guy – must study their way of leadership and learn from their example,” White said.

According to White, Parks is remembered in national folklore as a tired seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was subsequently arrested. However, she was not just physically weary, White said, and it is important to note exactly what Parks was really tired of – oppression.

King, though emblazoned in the public mind as the grieving window at her famous husband’s funeral, was also a strong leader in her own right, White said.

“Coretta Scott King’s opposition to the war in Vietnam came early and strong, earlier than [Martin Luther King’s],” White said. “In a speech at a rally in November 1966 she compared the bombings in Alabama and the bombing of Vietnam and she served as a delegate to international disarmament conferences and international peace associations.”

In what White described as one of the “happiest moments” of his life he spotted Parks in a corridor while attending a conference. Despite being a self-proclaimed “shy guy,” he grabbed his two daughters and approached her. Parks stopped and briefly chatted with them.

“I’m surprised at my courage, but I am also amazed at the generosity of her spirit,” White said.

White then gave his own definition of a leader – saying a leader is a student, someone who possesses imaginative courage and someone who leaves a living legacy of them self.

“[Parks and King] were students,” White said. “They spent their entire lives studying justice, as we must do.”

The two women also had imaginative courage that enabled them to move forward despite knowing what their actions might cost them. Further, they were builders of institutions that spread their work to others, White said.

“As I look around this room I see many women and a few men who are taking up the legacy of these two great leaders,” White said. “I see in this College a new commitment to diversity in every aspect of our lives, but I also have enough imagination to know that things could go differently.”

It is the leaders of today who have to take responsibility to live up to Parks and King and find a way of carrying on their missions, White said.

“This is our challenge, this is our sweet burden, this is our responsibility,” he said.