Since early August, Seton Hall junior Craig Witmer and South Orange Village President Alex Torpey have been working together to find a productive way to engage both students and local residents in addressing pervasive problems, both on campus and in town.
The result of those efforts is the first Seton Hall/South Orange Leadership Symposium, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in McNulty Hall. The conference organizers hope to provide a platform to facilitate discussion between students and South Orange leaders on a number of topics, including: governance transparency, responsible growth and development, intentional integration, public health and safety, access to education and climate change.
“Bringing together our two communities to talk about larger level policy issues, and how we can break off actionable pieces here is a huge value,” Torpey said. “People need to know how to find ways to work on manageable chunks of larger issues.”
The primary aim of this event is to shed light on the issues that students care about and create a dialogue with the people that can help solve those problems.
“The hope with the conference is you have the opportunity as a student to voice your opinion and really be able to get it out there in a constructive way,” said Witmer, a diplomacy major and Honors Program student.
He was able to work closely with Torpey while he interned with Rethink Leadership, the mayor’s nonpartisan initiative in South Orange. In addition to working with Torpey, Witmer said he has been in contact with Maggie Bach, assistant dean of leadership development, and several members of the Student Government Association, including President Tim Hoffman, Vice President Ryan Kane and Secretary Teagan Sebba.
Witmer takes a realistic but hopeful approach to the first of what he hopes becomes a bi-annual event.
“It’s a good idea, but at the same time, this is not something that has a whole lot of weight to it yet,” he said, acknowledging that this is essentially a trial run. “Maybe the conference goes awry…(But) even if eight people show up, well then eight of us are going to have a great conversation and whatever comes out of it, I’m going to make it work.”
While the point of this conference is to provide a forum for discussion and for student ideas to gain momentum, he hopes to continue the event next semester to focus more on how the ideas can be implemented to solve the issues.
“I wanted to bring in leadership from South Orange to say what’s feasible and what’s not, where are we going from here,” he said.
Momentus, a student organized LLC, is providing conference services and logistics for the event. Student members Brendan Whitaker, Samantha Cutrone and Chris Scott are working to make this event run as smoothly as possible. The company is providing student moderators for to help direct the focused discussions that will be held in separate rooms in McNulty.
“The moderators that we have, those guys are motivated students who have a vested interest starting the conversation that we hope to happen there and be the ones that help effect change,” Whitaker, chairman of the board of Momentus, said.
Invitees from the Village include Board of Trustees members Sheena Collum and Steve Schnall, people from the town zoning board, representatives from Solarize South Orange, which is working to provide solar power in more efficient ways to South Orange, among others.
Torpey is scheduled to give an opening speech about the importance of finding ways to help inspire and educate leaders in the community. While all students are encouraged to participate in the Symposium, Witmer tried to tap into enough areas of leadership to gather together an effective group.
Student representatives from SGA, the Stillman Leadership program, the Honors Program, the Setonian, the Stillman Exchange and the Diplomatic Envoy, among others, have been invited to participate.
Emily Balan can be reached at email@example.com.