58 years of community connection and encouragement: SMU’s Women’s Symposium
SMU’s 58th annual Women’s Symposium honored women who have “made a significant impact on the city of Dallas and on the quality of life for women overall.”
Hosted by SMU’s Women and LGBTQ Center, this event has been an integral part of each school year. The 2023 keynote speaker was Jade Mathis: an activist, author and mental health advocate. Her impactful testimony, “Don’t Quit Anything Can Happen,” has reached the ears of millions across the globe.
Mathis is an outspoken mental health advocate as she continues to travel the country sharing her struggles, trials and triumphs. Mathis said that when she was in college, doctors told her, “Jade, what you have is treatable but it is not curable. You have ADHD, clinical depression and a learning disorder.” As a 19-to 20-year old, she had a hard time processing that.
In her testimony, Mathis says her diagnoses made her junior and senior year of college difficult. She did not have perfect grades, nor a high GPA, but she made the decision to not let her difficulties define her or determine her future.
Mathis says she felt led to go to law school. She took the law school admissions exam and failed. She was denied from all six of the schools she applied to but she did not let that stop her. Mathis took the exam again, was admitted to Harvard, and studied to become an attorney.
Despite all the struggle, pain and hardship Mathis experienced, she said her trials have made her and her faith stronger and have made her, “run her own race.” When asked how she grew comfortable sharing her story she said she wasn’t initially ready to.
“I was pushed into it, but I’m grateful,” she said.
Mathis was particularly grateful about the opportunity to share at SMU’s Women’s Symposium.
“This audience has been very diverse. Often when I speak to audiences, the topic range is not as diverse and open minded,” she said. “So I appreciate seeing so much diversity in one room and they’re all women celebrating each other.”
In addition to discussing mental health, the event recognized different women for their role in the community. The Profiles in Leadership award ceremony celebrated the achievement of four women who have been recognized for their work and communal involvement: Dr. Chrisette Dharma, medical director at Southwest Family; Jennifer “Jenny” Ecklund, partner at Thompson Coburn; Dr. Koshi Dhingra, founder and CEO of talkSTEM; and Erikka Flood-Moultrie, CEO and principal of ConnectThree.
Dr. Dharma grew her medical practice into Southwest Family Medicine Associates, which holds an accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance. She is one of 1,500 clinics in the United States with this certification. Also referred to as a “Medical Home,” Dr. Dharma uses her practice to meet the needs of the people in her neighborhood and city of Dallas.
Ecklund is a partner at Thompson Coburn’s Litigation Practice. She is an experienced pro bono lawyer and has been covered by publications such as the New York Times, CBS News, The Atlantic and others. Her work includes representing sexual assault survivors, as well as reproductive justice and women’s health organizations with an emphasis on social justice.
Dr. Dhingra is the CEO of her company talkSTEM. With over 30 years of STEM experience, her organization promotes STEM education to children and teachers. Her mission is to teach future generations about STEM by inspiring youth to have a STEM-driven attitude. Dr. Dhingra partners with organizations, schools, teachers and people who want to make an impact on the community.
Flood-Moultrie is the CEO of ConnectThree. Known as the “connection catalyst,” she uses her organization to engage with the community. Flood-Moultrie has held positions with the American Diabetes Association, the Dallas Black Theatre, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and others. She led the charge in the W.W Kellogg Foundation’s efforts of racial healing and transformation in Dallas.
Calinda Jones, a graduate student, said her favorite part of the evening was “hearing about perseverance and failure and hearing that perspective. It’s relatable and current and [it felt] like everyone [needed] to hear about that.”
Another graduate student, Krystal Brown, was reminded about the importance of community and how essential it is that everyone has one as it lends itself to not only a person’s success but overall well being.
“I think sometimes in life we forget about all those who help us get to where we are because we become successful,” Brown said.
Mathis’ main message was one of hope and perseverance. She encouraged the audience to press on through life’s difficulties because trials produce character.
“Life will not always be fair. I will not always win,” Mathis said. “But I promise to show up for myself and never give up on myself. Because I am resilient.”