From Friday February 22nd to Sunday February 24th 2019, I, Roshni Panwala, had the distinct privilege of representing N.C. State University at the ACC Leadership Symposium hosted by NCSU. This conference was advertised as a weekend to build a network of change between leaders who seek solutions to issues of food and housing insecurity on the campuses of 15 different universities. To me, and many of my peers attending this conference, this weekend was more than that.
We began the weekend by having dinner at Vaughn Towers, better known as the box seats above Carter-Finely stadium. Seeing the entirety of the Wolfpack’s home-field blended in the misty Carolina weather was in and of itself a remarkable beauty, but looking inside the Dail Club presented something even more of a sight. Almost 95 students were gathered around round tables enjoying a meal and sharing the actions of their own schools. The Keynote speaker for the evening was Mrs. Eva M. Clayton. She served as the first African American woman to represent North Carolina in the House of Representatives and is now the Assistant General-Director of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. She spoke to us about how we are the generation who will solve this issue, that this has persisted for too long. She also relayed to us the importance of the work we were doing and how we should continue to stay in contact with one another until every school in the ACC had defeated food insecurity. We concluded the night by breaking into small groups of 9 students in order to target a specific task of food insecurity on college campuses. My team was focused on devising a campaign to better advertise the concept of an on campus food pantry. After a brief introduction, we each spoke of our strengths and weakness and how individually we should contribute to the team. Knowing our leadership strengths from the beginning ended up allowing us to be successful throughout the weekend.
The next day consisted of several learning occasions. We had the opportunity to go through a personal leadership workshop that focused on what food insecurity truly was. After establishing group norms of inclusivity, we took a moment to imagine what food insecurity looked like in each of our minds. For me, it began as my hometown and gradually transformed into Wolf Plaza buzzing with students. In this personal moment of self-reflection, I had a vivid picture of who could be food insecure: anyone. Around me, the other delegates shared that they too imagined their hometowns or campuses. Some of the leaders spoke of personal stories of how food insecurity plagued them at an early age and are still suffering from it. Hearing the amount of emotion and dedication each one of us had to this issue empowered us even more to share what we are currently doing and what we plan to do in the future.
We spent the latter part of the morning and afternoon learning more of the work being done on N.C. State’s Campus and how these efforts can be applied elsewhere. As a delegate from the host school, I felt a sense of pride overcome me when I could see other leaders amazed by our work here. It made me want to continue in all of the efforts. This transitioned us into more group project planning for our tasks. My team and I immediately began brainstorming all of our ideas and compiled a list of everything we thought would better campaign for campus food pantries. We developed a campaign entitled #ChooseU. Our message was that no student should have to choose between housing, education, or food even though they are sometimes put into that situation. #ChooseU is a representation of a fictional school called Choose University that shares the access to a food pantry online, physically, and through programming. These diversified styles of campaigning were ideal to our team since any of the methods could be applicable to a university depending on the platform that is already available to the leadership teams. This project demonstrated the applicability of the Relational Leadership Model in that we established our common purpose as our first step. As we contributed ideas, we adapted to the issues and listened to one another in order to empower each of our team members. When dividing up tasks, we each took on the one that pertained to our strengths so that each person was included into the area that they could be the best leader. We all understood that this cause was something that could potentially affect our roommates, friends, faculty, and staff and for that, it was ethically important for us to do this project to the best of our abilities. Each step had its difficulty and we built off one another in a coherent process of leadership.
The night event was by far my favorite experience. We worked with organization RISE Against Hunger in order to package meals. It became a competition and different universities came together to be teams and package all of their meals first. For the first time in my life, I was rooting for Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, and N.C. State as one team. Together we were able to package 25,000 meals in under two hours. 95 students. 25,000 meals. This event was so incredible to me that I have planned to do it with my Dual-Degree Scholars Program and my Fraternity.
The following day was a day of reflection and group presentation. I had never seen so many project presentations that burst with passion, effort, and leadership quality. During the presentation, every delegate was taking notes, knowing that they could take these ideas back with them. In the campus delegation reflections, the NCSU team and I were able to express how we intended to stay together and unite our varying organizations- New Student Programs, Feed the Pack Food Pantry, Multicultural Club, and Student Government. I have personally begun to write a bill on uniting host families with out of state and international students for breaks where campus is closed. These actions would not have been possible without the ACC Leadership Symposium and the efforts of every delegate and their need to serve their community. Together, everyone achieves more. Together, we will end food and housing insecurity. Together, we will nourish our communities.