Making history

Making history

Celia Harmelink

The National Governors Association, along with the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, will be hosting “Women and Leadership: The First Conference of U.S. Women Governors” Friday, Sept. 8, through Saturday, Sept. 9. This two-day event will serve as the first time U.S. female governors have been gathered together for a conference of this kind.

The first session will be held Friday, Sept. 8, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Room 215 of the L.V. Eberhard Center. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano will be speaking at this event. There will also be a public reception to follow. 

The next set of sessions will be held in the Loosemore Auditorium of the Richard M. DeVos Center Saturday, Sept. 9, starting at 9 a.m. The speakers will include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin and former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts. 

There will be a complimentary lunch to follow at 11:30 a.m, and then author Deborah Rhode will present on her new book, “Women and Leadership,” at 12:45 p.m. 

The last event Saturday will be a panel discussion that starts at 4 p.m. featuring Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place; Maria Cimitile, GVSU provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs; and Lisa Posthumus Lyons, politician and former Republican member of the Michigan House of Representatives. This will be followed by a reception.

These events, which are free to the public, are expected to bring in more than 300 people per day. Registration is required, so interested individuals should sign up online.

Ann O’Keefe, the assistant director of the Hauenstein Center, spearheaded this event. She believes this conference is very important for female students in particular to attend.

“One of the major goals of the conference was inspiring young women to be leaders and to perhaps run for office, because that’s where a lot of change is made, and to give them some tips on how to make that practical and also to perhaps not let them be unaware of the challenges they may face,” O’Keefe said.

Some of the topics that will be discussed during these conferences will be the differences and challenges women have experienced in leadership roles, how the media responds to female leaders and other gender-relevant issues.

“Everyone here has a great story to tell,” O’Keefe said. “Those will be some of the things women share about, the challenges of being a woman versus being a man, while recognizing that great leadership is great leadership no matter who you are.”

Deb Havens, the chair of the planning committee for this event, said she hopes people will realize the legacy to which these women are contributing. Women have only served as governors in 28 of the 50 United States, and this event will be an opportunity to ask these women what they have learned.

“Whether you’re a man or a woman, you need to know how to best work together, and so this is not male versus female,” Havens said. “This is we work better together when we understand and respect each other. So, I’m very much excited about the possibility for the outcome of what people can take away from this.” 

Havens thinks GVSU should be proud to play a role in this conference.

“It’s unprecedented that there has never been a gathering of women governors before,” Havens said. “I mean, it’s just astonishing when you think about it. The National Governors Association is a partner with Grand Valley. This is the nation coming to this university and saying ‘You are doing something amazing, and we want to be a part of that.’

The university has much to be proud of.”

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