Cal Lutheran hosts Women in Leadership Panel


Photo by Will Haddock - Reporter

On March 15, 2022 Cal Lutheran hosted a Women in Leadership Panel that featured President Varlotta, Cristallea Buchanan and Brandy Yee.

Will Haddock, Reporter

On Tuesday, March 15, 2022, California Lutheran University’s Center for Cultural Engagement and Inclusion hosted a “Women in Leadership Panel” at the Student Union.

Cal Lutheran President Lori Varlotta, Ph.D., Vice President of Talent, Culture, and Diversity Cristallea Buchanan and Director of Interdisciplinary Educational Studies Brandy Yee, Ph.D. Staff member and Coordinator of Cultural Engagement and Inclusion Julie Le hosted the panel discussion.

Le hosted the panel discussion because they felt like there weren’t many opportunities for students to talk directly to faculty or staff. Le felt it was important for students to get to know staff on campus to help create a better sense of community and improve communication between staff and students.

The panel ran for an hour and a half, Le started the panel by having the guests and panelists introduce themselves. The panelists then spoke on their backgrounds and upbringings. 

Varlotta, Buchanan, and Yee all spoke on their experiences growing up as well as their experiences in business. Buchanan shared her experience as a first generation immigrant. Both Varlotta and Buchanan were the first members of their family to attend college. Varlotta and Yee talked about their grandparents immigrating to the United States as well. 

Buchanan spoke of her experience in education and the auto industry, she ran an anti-racism training program at Honda but decided to leave after her job prevented her from spending time with her mother while she was in hospice. Buchanan said after the death of George Floyd, her position was in high demand. She said she chose to work at Cal Lutheran because she wanted a job that would not tempt her with superficial vices.

“I recruited someone who wasn’t interested in money, fame, or prestige; it says a lot about Cal Lutheran, it says a lot about Cristallea,” Varlotta said in response.

Yee talked about her experience growing up on a farm in Canada. Her grandparents immigrated from China and she said her grandfather is the most smartest, wisest person she knows. While growing up, Yee attended French immersion school, learned Ukrainian dance, played volleyball and was a part of a band. 

“I had this interesting experience in childhood where my family exposed me to a lot of different things. And so nothing was really unusual,” Yee said.

Yee worked as a K-12 educator for 20 years, she was a teacher for 10 years and a school principal for 10 more. She came to Cal Lutheran because she wanted the opportunity to teach again. Yee said she enjoyed the aspect of being able to work with students every day and watch them grow.

“What I find very empowering is the ability to work with students and help them see in themselves things that they didn’t see before,” Yee said.

When asked about a career defining moment, Varlotta recounted meeting the University President at her first job. At the time she was working as a residence hall director at Robert Morris College. After speaking with the university president, Varlotta said it became a defining goal to become one herself. 

“If I knew at age 58, half of what I thought I knew at age 22, I would be the most brilliant person in the world. I look back and I wish that I would have been a better listener and a more humble person than I was,” Varlotta said.

Varlotta said that she had set her sights on the job of university president within two weeks of her working as a residence hall director. Varlotta said it was naive of her at the time, but that it ultimately helped her in the long run. 

During the panel discussion, Varlotta said that both she and Buchanan had been criticized for using the term diversity of thought, a phrase Varlotta used to express that there are many ways of thinking to be a good female leader.  Varlotta said that colleagues had asked her to stop using the phrase. 

“The answer is no, I won’t. Because diversity of thought is really important in terms of everything, including leadership,” Varlotta said.

Varlotta referenced an opinion piece in the “New York Times” while expanding on her response about diversity of thought. She incorrectly attributed the author as a woman of color. The author, Emma Camp, who is white, believes her college experience was defined by strict ideological conformity.

Varlotta tied in what she remembered about the article into her experience in leadership. Saying that Camp believed that there was no debate on campus because the faculty and students all think the same.

“She said, there is no debate. And I felt, how sad is that? So in leadership, be brave, be bold, and be respectful,” Varlotta said.  

Buchanan followed up by expanding on Varlotta’s statement.

“I think when you’re comfortable in your own skin, then you can take the debates, the opposing ideas, you’re not threatened by it, you can truly listen,” Buchanan said.

The panelists then opened up the floor for questions from the attending guests. The event ended with a photo opportunity for the guests of the luncheon.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to meet the students and share experiences,” Buchanan said.

Student Kelsy Washburn heard about the event from a friend 30 minutes before the event and said she was pleasantly surprised with how it went.

“When we were there and everyone was sharing their personal experiences to be in the positions that they are and how they got there was really inspiring. I loved it,” Washburn said.

CCEI will be holding another free Women’s Herstory Month luncheon on March 29.