Student peer leadership conference focuses on the importance of equity practices

The Peer Leader Community of Practice (PLCOP), in collaboration with various offices, Faculties and departments from across campus, hosted the 10th annual Peer Leader Conference on Wednesday, April 24.

This year’s conference theme was “fostering inclusivity as leaders in the community.” The conference focused on developing leadership capacity for student leaders who have a role supporting other students for the summer or upcoming academic year.

Student leaders prepare for opening remarks

The gathering provided staff, faculty and student leaders with insight into how equity practices intersect with leadership development and foster student success on campus. The programming offered 11 unique sessions that participants could select from based on what was best aligned with their interests and learning objectives. More than 170 student leaders from across the University attended the event.

Brian Poser, director of Aboriginal and mature student services, framed the day by saying: “Diversity, without inclusion, is not belonging.” His remarks set the context for conference participants. He highlighted the responsibility of student leaders to create safe, inclusive spaces where community members feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

Engaged student leaders during a session

The conference presented a variety of engaging sessions about leadership development, delivered in a concurrent session format by a mix of insightful staff and student presenters. The opening keynote was delivered by Joseph Smith, a PhD candidate at York University, a professor at Tyndale University, co-founder of the non-profit Generation Chosen and the director of youth outreach for the board of Operation Black Vote Canada.

Smith’s session highlighted the importance for leaders to develop a high level of emotional intelligence to account for and accommodate the diverse strengths and traumas that may inform the opinions, creative solutions and approaches that inclusive communities require. “Being mindful of the space you occupy in the world is so important as a leader – I came away so impressed with Joseph’s session,” said one student in response to Smith’s keynote talk.

The day concluded with a panel about inclusive leadership. Conference participants engaged in meaningful dialogue with panellists Nicole Doray, manager of platforms, community and content at the Academy for Sustainable Innovation; David Ip Yam, director of student service excellence; and Jathusha Mahenthirarajan, student activist, public speaker and visionary. The panel was moderated by Urshian Khalid, student leadership and development coordinator at the Student Success Centre in the Division of Students.

From left: Panellists Nicole Doray, David Ip Yam, Jathusha Mahenthirarajan and Urshian Khalid (moderator)

“Being able to see the diversity of backgrounds, fields and walks of life of the different panellists – to see young, successful individuals who are evidence of the applicability of skills learned as student leaders after university,” said a student attendee when asked what was the most memorable aspect of the leadership panel. “Many students related to at least one of the panellists and the situational examples opened my eyes. The panellists were a great mix of strengths, insight and authenticity – something I am learning is fundamental to being an impactful leader.”

Students attended two popular sessions titled “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion,” recommended for first-time student leaders, and “Leadership In Action,” recommended for experienced student leaders. The sessions were delivered by Lisa Brown and Allison Bishop, education and communications advisers in the Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion. Students said they walked away with a deeper understanding of how equity is critical to fostering inclusive leadership and were more aware of the various policies, practices and initiatives that the University is implementing. Many student leaders said they would apply the knowledge gained at the Peer Leader Conference in their respective roles at York.

Student leaders take part in one of the concurrent sessions

Conference attendees participated in a consultation around assessing students’ leadership development on campus, titled “Leadership Development: What Do(es) YU Need?” This session was also hosted by Khalid with Ross McMillan, director of student engagement and first-year experience, Student Success Centre. “We’re at a very exciting point for leadership development on our campus and have the opportunity to build a program that collaborates with student leaders on their leadership development needs,” said McMillan.

“Our leadership philosophy at Student Community & Leadership Development rests upon the assumption that everyone can be a leader” said Khalid, “particularly with some self-awareness and intentionality.”

From left: Student leader Sadhna Dindayal, Urshian Khalid and student leader Ryah Sharif

To learn more about the PLCOP or how to become involved in student leadership initiatives at York University, contact Khalid at