Barry McNamara  |   Published November 17, 2022

Teaching Inclusive Leadership

Monmouth’s Champion Miller Center interns reach out to high school students at Farmington and United.

VISITING FARMINGTON: Pictured during a Nov. 3 visit to the school an hour southeast of Monmouth a... VISITING FARMINGTON: Pictured during a Nov. 3 visit to the school an hour southeast of Monmouth are, from left, fifth-year senior Jake Uryasz (who attended Farmington), Addison Cox '23, Gabriela Madu '23, Ditza Montesinos '23, Nyasaina Kwamboka '23, superintendent Zac Chatterton '99, Jonathon Diaz '23 and Champion Miller Center Director Regina Johnson '01.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Student interns with Monmouth College’s Champion Miller Center for Student Equity, Inclusion and Community visited a pair of local high schools this month, bringing lessons on inclusive leadership and diversity with them.

On Nov. 3, the students, led by Champion Miller Center Director Regina Johnson ’01, were at Farmington High School, where Monmouth graduate Zac Chatterton ’99 is the superintendent. The next week, Johnson and her students traveled the short distance to United High School, where alumnus Chris Schwarz ’09 serves as principal.

The training at Farmington was “more focused,” said Johnson, as this is the third year the College has worked with students there. The focus was broader on the United visit.

NYASAINA KWAMBOKA: The senior is shown speaking at a Wellness Day event at United High School. ?I... NYASAINA KWAMBOKA: The senior is shown speaking at a Wellness Day event at United High School. “It is necessary that we become socially and personally aware of the need to be inclusive in leadership and in teamwork," she said.“It doesn’t matter your identity, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, we’re here for every single person,” said Nyasaina Kwamboka ’23 of Nairobi, Kenya, of one of the group’s primary messages. “It is necessary that we become socially and personally aware of the need to be inclusive in leadership and in teamwork.”

She also commented on the philosophy the group has adopted for in-depth discussions on campus or on outreaches to schools: “Stories stay, lessons leave,” said Kwamboka. “We should talk about and carry with us the lessons from our conversations, not the stories themselves.”


Making a connection

Before those stories could be shared, the Monmouth students had to earn the trust of the high schoolers.

“For one of our first activities, we all stood at the front of the room, and we asked the students to look at us and describe what they see,” said Kwamboka.

“The Farmington students were like deer in the headlights,” said Johnson. “They felt like we were trying to trap them. In our world today, we’ve created a fear of making mistakes and being called out. But describing what a person looks like is not offensive, especially if the tone is not offensive.”

Another way to build trust, said Jonathon Diaz ’23 of Riverdale, Illinois, is to “help the kids feel open by showing them vulnerability and authenticity. We helped them understand it was OK to ask questions without feeling bad.”

Ditza Montesinos ’23 of Villa Park, Illinois, said what the Monmouth students offer is a chance for the high schoolers to connect with people from their own generation.

“It was interesting to see how much guidance these kids can get from talking to people who aren’t too much different in age from them,” said Montesinos. “It’s reassuring to know other people go through the same patterns that you do.”

“It’s good that they can meet other people now so that they can be the best version of themselves. Instead of only being around people that are exactly like them, they can hear different opinions. The world is a diverse place. You can’t be stuck in one mindset.” Jonathon Diaz


It’s also important to talk to others from a different background, said Diaz.

“This is the age when they’re the most moldable,” he said. “In a few more years, when they’re in their 20s, you’ve adopted a pretty firm idea of what your values are. So it’s good that they can meet other people now so that they can be the best version of themselves. Instead of only being around people that are exactly like them, they can hear different opinions. The world is a diverse place. You can’t be stuck in one mindset.”


An ongoing relationship

Johnson said that the work with Farmington is very much an ongoing relationship.

“This is a year-long project for this year’s interns,” she said. “Our trip to Farmington was not just a siloed thing. We have virtual meetings scheduled with them, and we’ll be back in the school in January, February and March.”

It’s also possible that the Champion Miller interns, in conjunction with the College’s Stockdale Fellows leadership students, will host an “Illinois summit” in March.

“I commend Zac for the administrator he’s become,” said Johnson, whose time as a Monmouth student overlapped with Chatterton’s. “It’s important to him to bring diverse thoughts and perspectives to his students and to his staff.”

“It was a good opportunity to talk to kids and to reflect on how far I’ve come within the past four years. … It was an eye-opening experience, and I would do it again. One of the highlights of this for me was being able to feel seen and assured of who you are.” Ditza Montesinos


Montesinos said lessons learned at the outreaches did not only flow one way.

“It was definitely an experience I hadn’t had before on campus,” she said. “It was a good opportunity to talk to kids and to reflect on how far I’ve come within the past four years. … It was an eye-opening experience, and I would do it again. One of the highlights of this for me was being able to feel seen and assured of who you are.”

“I think it went very well,” said Kwamboka. “The experience at Farmington was really impactful. Now, the question is, ‘How can we ensure that the students will practice what we taught them?’”

Ideas for cementing those concepts include positive reinforcements from teachers and peers, such as commending students for what they’re doing. Also, said Kwamboka, “Constantly reminding them how they can be inclusive leaders, focusing on such attributes as a growth mindset and being humble and vulnerable.”

“That will help them bring it into their daily lives,” said Montesinos.

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