Image Credit: Pierre Courtois, Library of Virginia

As students at the Jepson School, Megan Hill, ’17, Andrew Beck, ’17, Luke Robertson, ’18, and Griffin Trau, ’18, have thought a lot about leadership inside the classroom. On Wednesday, February 24, Dr. Lauranett Lee’s Public Lives, Personal Narratives, and Persona class had the opportunity to learn about leading change in a different setting. The students visited the Executive Mansion, the official residence of the governor of Virginia, to witness the portrait unveiling of civil rights activist Barbara Johns.

In 1961, sixteen-year-old Johns led a walkout to protest school segregation. She then started a lawsuit that became part of the monumental Brown v. Board of Education.

“The unveiling of Barbara Johns’ portrait correlates to our discussions of leadership styles during different stages in Virginia history. Johns represents a youth leader in an era of social revolution,” said Hill, a leadership studies and political science double major with a minor in law and the liberal arts.

The portrait unveiling was part of the Black History Month Reception hosted by Governor McAuliffe. In addition to meeting the governor, the students met artist Jerome Jones and influential African American leaders from around Virginia.

“Witnessing the interactions of legislators and government officials in a close social setting was certainly a valuable learning experience. In Jepson, we often discuss how people carry themselves to convey a particular persona. Attending the event allowed us to see this in practice,” said Trau, who is pursuing a double major in leadership studies and international studies with a concentration in world politics and diplomacy.

Lee’s class examines historical sites around Virginia to gain a deeper understanding of how culture and context affect leadership, so the mansion itself presented an opportunity for study.

Hill noted, “There was a direct correlation of being able to visit the mansion and a research paper I had just written about the duality and conflict of democracy and gentility in early America. I looked a lot into the Executive Mansion as a symbol of political elitism.”

In addition to seeing the public part of the mansion, the students also got to see a side of the building not usually open to guests. When severe weather swept through the region that evening, Executive Mansion Director Kaci Easley and security personnel guided guests to shelter in the tunnels underneath the mansion.

“I received a notification on my phone about the tornado warning, so I was beginning to get curious as to how things might unfold,” remembered Trau. “A few moments later, security personnel ushered guests downstairs into a network of tunnels below the building. It was exciting to get an impromptu, behind-the-scenes tour. Although the weather altered the course of the night, it was a privilege to have the opportunity to explore a part of the Executive Mansion not open to the public.”

The class will visit other sites around Richmond as they investigate how leaders present themselves and how they are shaped by the world.