Leaders at the forefront of systemic change make a difference by thinking about how to shift old patterns that have kept people marginalized. Thirteen students nominated by deans across Vanderbilt this year got the chance to engage in such big-picture thinking as participants in the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership’s interprofessional student fellowship. Housed in the Divinity School, the program brings together students from various disciplines to engage around socio-moral concerns.
A core foundation of the fellowship program is to teach students how to advocate for and mobilize others, including future employers, around decisions that benefit the common good and improve justice, especially when it comes to serving a diverse public.
“So many people are just trying to survive in the world—moral leadership should not be a luxury of the thinking class. It should not be an optional thing for the survival and continuing of the human planet,” said Laine Walters Young, director of the fellowship and assistant director of the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership.
Nursing student Hali Ledet from Louisiana was one of this year’s fellows. She brings her life experiences growing up with a front-row view of the racial inequities of the prison system in her home state to bear on her goals of changing the narrative for underserved populations. She is pursuing certification as a midwife and family nurse practitioner.
Ledet and the other fellows, who are pursuing degrees in medicine, divinity, education, law and nursing, recently gathered to share research projects that examined social inequities and provided solutions on how to integrate behaviors designed to better support moral decision-making in their respective careers. The projects included research on health care disparities, particularly maternity deaths in African American women; health care in prisons; dominance in educational spaces; and early education success.
Amany Alshibli, Zeke Arteaga, Justin Brooks, Toni Cross, Anna Dennis, Noah Harrison, Joryan Hernandez, Linken Lam, Mark Miller, Risa Roth, Nirali Vyas, Veerain Gupta and Ledet each presented to a crowd of faculty members and Vanderbilt co-curricular organizations and departments. They spoke about how working as a team over the course of several months gave them a chance to think about how to lead people differently in the future.
“We do our best work when we bring various voices in varying ways to the table together rather than in silence,” said Rev. Quentin W. Cox, the fellowship program’s co-coordinator. “I hope that students walk away having a better understanding of the complexities of morality. That morality isn’t necessarily right and wrong. There are a variety of ways to think about what is moral or immoral, and how morality is situated within the community is important.”
Some of the students’ ideas for tangible steps included practical advice, such as health care providers better explaining patient rights or as providers better understanding their duty to serve all. The broader call to action, however, is that moral leadership is a practice that takes repeated conversations over time in complex organizations. The practice will always be challenging as other priorities and bottom lines may easily dominate hard conversations, some in attendance at the recent research presentation said.
Walters Young said that for many fellows, the program is the first time they’ve had to stop and consider moral implications of the growing leadership responsibilities in their respective fields. Tackling difficult situations with peers from other disciplines often provides a perspective students wouldn’t otherwise receive, she noted.
“The curriculum we have tried to develop is conversational, reflective and introspective and not based on case studies. So much is based on the case studies of their own lives and what they’ve experienced and the situations they envision,” Walters Young said.
The CTP Fellowship program, which has been around for 12 years, gives fellows a chance to meet twice a month over lunch to discuss and reflect upon moral leadership, moral values, moral formation, moral power and moral conflict. As a co-curricular activity, students often are pursuing the opportunity to round out field-specific training.
“What are we hoping that students get out of this experience? The first is the ability to have conversations across professional lines and an awareness that based on your position in life, whether that is your social location, whether it’s where you work, your chosen profession … there are different ways to think about these moral issues,” Cox said.
Cox noted that polarization in the U.S., as well as current affairs in the country and across the globe, serves as evidence that decisions around moral issues have reached unprecedented points of tension. Training future leaders to navigate choppy waters in trying times is essential, he and Walters Young emphasized.
“One of the important things about the program is to try to help people with their moral and ethical literacy, to help them think through the situations they’ve been in and the situations they will be in,” Walters Young said. “We try to instill in our fellows that being a moral leader is a lifelong effort.”
Meet the fellows:
Mark Miller (he/him) is in the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing as an Adult Gero Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Student. Mark’s post-graduation plans include doctoral work in Health Policy and Nursing Executive Leadership. He has accepted positions as a tenure-track RN Associate Professor, AGACNP Hospitalist and Drug & Alcohol Medical Detoxification Advanced Practice Provider. One of Mark’s largest takeaways from his time with the Cal Turner Program is that having a clear picture of one’s moral compass prior to ethically challenging situations arising is critical to ensure equitable outcomes accomplishing the greatest good for the many. As a Nursing Leader at a critical time in our Nation’s reckoning with healthcare, it is part of his responsibility to recognize his privilege and opportunity and work to ensure better access, better outcomes, and better experiences for not only his patients, but for all seeking a better life.
Nirali Vyas (she/her) is in her second year at Vanderbilt Law School where her studies are focusing in on Civil Legal Practice. This summer, she will be interning at Kakalec Law PLLC, a labor rights plaintiffs’ firm in Brooklyn, NY. Nirali will have the opportunity to represent women workers in an equal pay lawsuit against a multinational corporation as well as low-wage workers harmed by incidences of labor trafficking at the BAPS Hindu temple in Robbinsville, NJ. When asked about her time with the CTP Fellowship, Nirali says that the CTP fellowship has given her the tools to collaborate successfully with experts and practitioners working outside of her own discipline by teaching the power of listening. She has learned to look at the world’s most pressing problems from a broader perspective than just law and policy and has also grown to appreciate the role that faith and religion can play in anti-racist work. Nirali is excited to take away from the fellowship far stronger communication skills, which will tremendously impact her ability to serve clients from all walks of life.
Toni Cross (she/her) is a second-year JD candidate at Vanderbilt Law School. She was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where she majored in International and Global Studies focused on Russia and Eastern Europe and minored in Arabic. Before attending law school, she got her master’s degree in International Security from Georgetown University. This summer she will be returning to Washington DC to work in Hogan Lovells LLP’s global regulatory group. She is grateful to the Cal Turner Program for giving her the language to evaluate her own approach to moral leadership as well as the approaches of others. More importantly, she appreciates the opportunity to learn from and develop alongside her peers across vocations.
Justin Brooks (he/his) is a second-year student at Vanderbilt Law School with his area of study focused on public interest. Justin is interning over the summer with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee. He says that the experience of working toward a common good with colleagues from different personal and professional walks of life has been inspiring! His peers have engaged with this program with a passion that has illuminated several new perspectives for him, and Justin knows that he will feel more confident tackling moral issues as he begins his professional career with those perspectives in mind.
Zeke Arteaga (he/him) is pursuing his Master’s degree in Education in Leadership and Organizational Performance in the Peabody College of Education. Zeke plans to spend this summer taking a well-deserved break and beginning to explore his next career move for the fall. Potential paths he is considering include career coaching in higher education, change management consulting, and leadership/organizational/executive coaching. Through his experience in the Cal Turner fellowship program Zeke has gotten “first and foremost a network of individuals that I can check in with who hold similar values to me including compassion and dignity for others. Second, a better awareness that issues of morality are complex and dynamic, and one must be courageous in addressing these issues in their life and profession. Lastly, a better understanding of myself and to give myself permission to be vulnerable when it makes sense for me.”
Hali Ledet (she/her) (pictured left) is a dual-speciality Nurse-Midwifery and Family Nurse Practitioner student in the School of Nursing. She will spend the upcoming summer and fall catching babies and serving families from all walks of life as she completes her midwifery training in Providence, Rhode Island and Fairbanks, Alaska. She is immensely grateful for the opportunity to have engaged in deep and meaningful fellowship with the incredible members of this year’s CTPML cohort. The conversations she has had, lessons she hass learned, and renewed sense of optimism she has gained in this program will continue to enrich her mind and heart and influence her practice and work for health justice for many years to come. Photo by Harrison McClary
Risa Roth (she/her) is pursuing her Master’s degree in Education in Human Development Counseling specializing in School Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about advocating for children and adolescents’ right to receive social and emotional support regardless of race, gender identity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, and environmental barriers at both the school and state government levels. This passion has led her to start multiple mental health initiatives on Vanderbilt’s Peabody campus, such as the Mental Health Working Group and The Bandana Project, as well as collaborate with multiple student organizations and non-profit organizations in the Nashville area. Her time as a fellow in the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership has helped foster her passions through discussions on moral purpose in which other fellows from other programs have expressed similar concerns and efforts. As she continues to get her M.Ed, as well as (she hopes) an Ed.D. in Education Policy for K-12 settings, she will continue to deliver her counseling services and conduct her advocacy efforts through a multi-disciplinary, multiculturally competent framework.
Noah Harrison (he/him) is completing his time at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine and will be an Orthopedic surgery resident at Washington University/Barnes Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis for the next 5 years. Noah says that being in the Cal Turner Program has given him a greater appreciation for the complexity of the various moral issues that face the professions today. Moreover, it has expanded his knowledge of the wide variety of proposed solutions and the moral philosophies that underpin them.
Amany Alshibli (she/her) is finishing her time at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine where she is about to graduate and will be starting residency in Anesthesiology at University of California San Francisco. For Amany, the fellowship has taught her the importance of interprofessional collaboration and how much she can learn from colleagues in other professions, in a world where expertise and practice has become so siloed. True and sustainable solutions to society’s problems will require the really difficult work of listening, learning, and constant questioning.
Joryán Hernández (he/his) is a third-year Master of Divinity candidate at Vanderbilt Divinity School, where he is concentrating in Chaplaincy and earning a certificate in Latin American Studies. He earned a B.A. in Religion from the University of Florida and is not afraid to say, “GO GATORS!” any time he gets the chance. Born and raised in Cuba, he enjoys a strong cup of cafecito. Joryán will continue his studies at the University of Notre Dame, where he will pursue a PhD in Peace Studies and Theology. At Notre Dame, he aspires to explore how pastoral care may be used to help alleviate the traumas of displacement in Latinx communities. He is grateful for the ways the Cal Turner Program has helped him realize how addressing moral issues in our society necessitates deep solidarity across professional lines.
Anna Dennis (she/her) is a dual Nurse-Midwifery and Family Nurse Practitioner student at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. If all goes as planned, she will be graduating in May of 2023 – until then she will be completing clinical rotations in Sarasota, Florida and Norwich, Connecticut. After graduation, Anna’s dream is to provide holistic and loving care to people throughout the lifespan with an emphasis on reproductive care that honors autonomy. She incredibly grateful for her time in the Cal Turner Program. Time spent with this group of people has expanded her mind and heart to understand pressing problems from a moral lens, and to unapologetically prioritize morality as we imagine solutions. Anna hopes to carry this spirit of imagination, justice, and vulnerability with her as the fellows’ formal time together ends. She says special thanks to Laine, Quentin, and Ashley for being our leaders through this mind-bending and heart-stretching work.
Linken Lam (he/him) is a student in the Peabody College of Education and is receiving his Master of Education degree in Human Development Counseling within the School Counseling track. Linken hopes to be working in higher education in either student affairs or Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work. When asked about how this fellowship with the CTP will affect the next phase in his life, Linken said, “What has stuck out to me the most was our lunch conversation about change, about how change within an organization can never come from the organization itself, solely, and about how we must convince those who are morally on the fence to become invested in the issues that we are passionate about. I think the fact that the topic for that lunch was not what we ended up spending hours discussing makes it much more natural to me and embodies the purpose of the fellowship.”