Elevate Conference Aims to Turn Activism into Action at the University of Chicago

By Olivia Rodriguez

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On Saturday April 21st, close to 140 women from across the University of Chicago gathered in Ida Noyes Hall for the first annual Elevate Conference. The conference, organized by a group of five students across the University of Chicago and Northwestern, was established to bring together collegiate women passionate about creating meaningful change in their communities. 

The Elevate Conference founders connected at last July’s Galvanize Chicago. Galvanize was organized under the Obama administration and brought together 1,000 women across Chicago working at the local, national and international level on issues related to gender equity. The two-day event aimed to arm passionate community leaders with the tools and resources to combat these issues across politics, business, and policy. When University of Chicago sophomore Amy Ma and Booth student Olivia Rodriguez met via Galvanize, they came up with the idea to hold a similar event focused on the collegiate space. Since last July, they’ve been partnering with administration and other women-focused groups across the University of Chicago campus, to create a similar event for students of all educational levels.

The event kicked off early Saturday morning with the distinguished Valerie Jarrett, the longest serving Senior Advisor to former President Barack Obama. Jarrett shared her story of growth from the Mayor’s office in Chicago all the way to the White House. Her conversation with Susan Sher, former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, was surprisingly candid with a hint of humor.  She spilled anecdotes about humble dinners with “Michelle Robinson” before she was known to the world as the First Lady of the United States. She spoke about remaining optimistic in a time of great divide, and finding the grit and resilience to stay engaged in our civic duties. By the end of the discussion, Jarrett felt more like a long-time friend kicking us into gear with quotes like, “there will always be haters on the outside, so don’t be a hater on the inside” and most memorably advising us to, “brush our shoulders off”. Many of us dreamily envisioning Ms. Jarrett indulging in a cold one with Barry, Michelle, Bey and Jay.


The morning remarks by Jarrett were followed by a panel discussion between Anna Valencia, City Clerk of Chicago, and Goldie B. Wolfe Miller, one of the country’s top commercial real estate brokers. Halleemah Nash, a renowned leader in sports philanthropy, moderated the conversation. The three female pioneers spoke about influence, with a poignant take-away that “compassionate leadership is not weak”.


The afternoon closed with several breakouts sessions that provided attendees with the tools to tap into impactful policy work in their community, and engage in activism on the university level and beyond.

The founders aim for the Elevate Conference to become an annual event, involving collegiate women and men from across Chicago. There is a strong desire from these students to further connect and advocate beyond the classroom. The Elevate Conference strives to exist year after year to provide a platform for this engage audience to rise to leadership roles on campus and in their community, to foster positive change.

ElevateUChicago is an officially recognized student organization of the University of Chicago with advisor Michele Rasmussen, the Dean of Students in the University. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact elevateuchicago@gmail.com.