MSA, GAPSA presidents to attend leadership conference

by Lily Langerud

Two student-government leaders leave today for a leadership conference in an unlikely place.

Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Karen Buhr and Minnesota Student Association President Emily Serafy Cox, along with student-leaders from the University’s Morris and Duluth campuses, will attend the second-annual Women as Global Leaders Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“Whenever I have told people about this trip, they have one of two reactions,” Serafy Cox said.

First people ask where the United Arab Emirates is, then they ask if it’s OK for women to go there, she said.

“I’ve been surprised by that – at how much people assume that because it has the word Arab in the name or it’s right next door to Saudi Arabia that I’m going to be unsafe or the country is repressive to women,” she said.

Serafy Cox said she is excited to hear speakers such as Queen Rania of Jordan and Asha Hagi Elmi, the woman responsible for creating the Sixth Clan – a coalition of women in Somalia – during the creation of the country’s interim government.

Serafy Cox, the fifth female president of MSA in the past 16 years, said that while she sometimes is unsure whether she isn’t taken seriously because she is a woman or because she is a student, she has been able to work well with other members of the MSA executive board.

“It’s just been really exciting how many women have been involved in student and leadership positions,” she said.

Buhr, GAPSA’s sixth female president since it split from MSA in 1990, said she and Serafy Cox will host a summit detailing the events of the conference before the end of the semester.

“We realize that Emily and I are both kind of at the end of our careers as presidents,” she said. “We really want to make sure that our experience doesn’t get lost in the campus community.”

Buhr said the conference will include three days of intensive discussions focusing on the general lack of women in leadership positions around the world.

Tiffany Varilek, president of the Duluth Student Association, said attending the conference, which will host delegates from 87 countries, will be her first time leaving the country.

“It’s not like we’re just going to Mexico on spring break; we’re going halfway around the world,” she said.

The Office for Student Affairs provided $1,500 in funding to both MSA and GAPSA to cover travel expenses.

Amelious Whyte, chief of staff in the Office for Student Affairs, said the University is considering setting up a fund for student-government groups to cover expenses such as this, but also encourages GAPSA and MSA to build the costs into their budgets.

“We think it’s important to support the leadership development of our students and our student-leaders,” he said.

Buhr and Serafy Cox said the groups probably will look for leadership events to attend earlier on in coming years.

Margaret Cahill, senior student activities adviser, said the conference is a great opportunity for Serafy Cox and Buhr.

“I know that they’ll do a good job bringing back the information,” she said.