It wasn’t what LaQuisha Anthony was hoping for, but it turned out to be what she needed.
Five years ago Anthony founded V.O.I.C.E. (Victory Over Inconceivable Cowardly Experiences), a support network for sexual abuse survivors in her native Philadelphia. The nonprofit focuses on helping women of color and removing the stigma around sexual violence.
Earlier this year, she signed up for “Making Change,” a summer executive course at Harvard Divinity School (HDS), expecting to pick up some new skills and tools to become a more effective leader. She found much more than that. Anthony left with a good dose of inspiration and the new goal of becoming a broader force for good in the world.
“It was like a pilgrimage for me,” said Anthony. “It touched me deeply. It reaffirmed the idea that change is possible, and gave me a new approach, which is that I need to engage all people, all cultures, and all religions in order for us to see a collective change in our society and our world.”
Anthony was one of 19 participants in the intensive, four-day class designed to offer a different type of value from those offering management skills or best business practices.
Divinity School faculty ran the program like a personal-development retreat mixed with a graduate seminar on ethical issues such as racism, inequality, migration, conflict, and peace.
Besides attending lectures, students took part in small-group conversations, where they engaged in self-reflection exercises on how to become agents of change. Because the School teaches theology and religious studies, there was the option to partake in religious practices, such as Buddhist meditation, Jewish Torah study, and contemplative Christian prayer.
“Often people come to these courses thinking that they’re going to be making a five-year plan with bullet points and know what to do when they go home,” said Stephanie Paulsell, Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies and faculty chair for executive education. “We’re trying to offer a richer, deeper experience that involves thinking about the relationship between personal transformation and transformation in the world around us.”
Now in its second year, the course attracted ministers, businesspeople, lawyers, artists, and nonprofit founders and administrators.