“That’s Ridiculous!” Two New Chicago Alums Tell You All About Their Seminar Experience

My name is Zena Avilez and I attended the “Write to Change The World” OpEd Core Seminar in Chicago this past Saturday. The seven-hour, intensive workshop was graced with 20 amazing, energetic and extremely accomplished women with a variety of expertise who gathered together at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The seminar is about thinking BIG and empowering ourselves to find our voice and make a case for the ideas and causes we believe in.

Deborah Siegel

Deborah Siegel, Regional Seminar Leader, welcomes a new cohort to The OpEd Project’s Write to Change the World seminar in Chicago.

Presently, there is an imbalance in op-ed submissions, where an estimated 80-90 percent of op-ed submissions come from men. Women only represent 10-20 percent of op-ed submissions. This is a pretty significant gap! How do you close the gap and allow more smart women to submit op-eds? Well, The OpEd Project was established to scout and train under-represented experts and teach them to penetrate the world with their best ideas – regardless of whom you are or where you come from. Anyone is capable of shaping society and changing the world through a thought.  This is a tremendous initiative!

I was very excited to participate in this seminar (on a gorgeous Saturday) and learn how I can shape society and make an impact in the world.  Picture this – Zena Avilez has submitted a thought-provoking piece that was published in major news outlets – The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and USA Today.  The exciting news is this dream is all possible through working with the OpEd Project and the mentor-editors they assign to all attendees.

Zena Avilez

Zena considers a lede and newshook for her opinion piece.

The facilitators of the seminar, Michele Weldon and Deborah Siegel, were incredible and reminded us of the power that we all have within ourselves. During the seminar, the leaders told us: “Even the most powerful women I know go out of their way to say that they’re really not interested in  power. Imagine a man saying that.” This expresses the struggles that women have with power and understanding our knowledge and experience in terms of its value to others. As women we have to proclaim a social responsibility and walk with confidence and dispel the spirit of fear.

Michele Weldon

Michele Weldon, Seminar Leader, listens to Leeda and Kara as they contemplate ideas for individual op-eds.

During the workshop, all the ladies engaged in a number of activities that required us to work together and brainstorm with five questions provided to us to ponder on.  I was amazed at the ideas flowing through the room.  What was most astonishing is during the “To Be Sure” activity, where participants had to oppose a point of view, everyone had something different to add and made each idea unique or added a subtle twist to make us expand more on our point of view and stand by what we believe in and live by. The main thing I took away from this activity is that I shouldn’t give up when someone doesn’t agree with my idea. Opposing ideas expose new ideas and also expose your core of steel.

Randi and Paula

Randi and Paula engage in a high-stake scenario activity titled: To Be Sure.

After the seminar ended, I left with an arsenal of tools that I can use to write my first effective op-ed and submit it to my assigned mentor-editor when it’s ready.  I am very excited and I feel empowered to express my opinions.

The seminar was followed by a happy hour at the Elephant & Castle Restaurant nearby where all participants discussed the day’s activities and made further connections.  So, for all women (and men) who are looking to make a change, this seminar offers you two lodes of pure gold: it shows you the stuff of what you are made and it reveals how capable you are of inspiring a change to this world through your voice.

Zena Avilez

Well, you have read Zena’s version of what happened at the seminar which was a fulfilling and interesting experience and I can only add to the above by telling you what really happened….

“That’s ridiculous!” Michele says as she intrudes in on an exercise Sharmili and I are engaged in. Deborah lunges forward with a camera in our faces, and both ladies make sure I grill my partner in this exercise with a rampage of the phrase, “that’s ridiculous!”

Michele, Saman, Sharmili

Michele talks with Saman and Sharmili before they jump into the “That’s Ridiculous” activity.

If you ask why, it’s meant to ensure I give Sharmili (whose name means ‘shy girl’ in Hindi but is quite confident, I assure you) a taste of what will happen when she tries to express her thoughts to an audience that is bound to disagree with her at some point. The interesting thing was, I couldn’t agree more with the points she was making about sexual abuse in our society and how the media could and should play the story to avoid future incidents.

That was just one example of an exercise and the kind of ‘expert’ who showed up with a wealth of information, empathy and passion for the cause she wanted to present to the world. Not only were the women from diverse ethnicities, established career backgrounds and of all ages…our diversity in thought processes and what we wanted to write about was just as varied and compelling. We had women from a background in legal matters, non-profits, health care, media, education and career development, immigration policy making and those who cared deeply about human issues alone.

Debbie, Anya, and Shubha

Deborah talks with OpEd participants during a team breakout session.

Chicago, July 28

Anya explores arguments with another OpEd participant.

The OpEd project is an initiative that has already helped 5,000 women and underrepresented voices learn just how to get themselves heard. I am certain that with their support and setup of mentor-editors, vast network of media outlets and above all, their honest dedication to the cause of op-eds…we are going to make our voices heard far and beyond.

Chicago, July 28

LaSandra tells Claudia that her argument is “ridiculous”! These two participants had fun exploring arguments for their invidual opinion pieces.

Not many, would dare to call us “ridiculous” because we were also taught how to be “full of ourselves.” Of course, I’m not giving away all these secrets. I will leave it up to you to find out how to be full of yourself on your own.

Take a seminar, see what’s it about and carry on the conversation…

Saman Sheikh

July 28, Chicago

Epic OpEd seminar in Chicago ends with laughter and jazz hands!


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