Kennedy Denton: Leading Clubs, Leading Change

JCU student and club leader Kennedy Denton discusses JCU’s Student Life and the skills she is developing within our community as she reflects on what it means to be a student leader in an international environment.  

Community Spotlight

By Sara Segat / Matthew staff || Edited by Marouso Pappa

Kennedy Denton is a senior at JCU from Oklahoma City, US, majoring in International Business and minoring in Humanities. A well-affirmed student leader, she’s the President of JCU’s Black & African Student Association (BASA) as well as the Vice President of JCU’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI). She’s also Treasurer of JERO International Consulting, a Junior Enterprise (JE) founded and managed by JCU students and operating in the Italian, European, and Global JE confederations. I had the pleasure of meeting Kennedy to explore her background, her experience as a student leader at JCU, and her international aspirations. 

Courtesy of Kennedy Denton
Why did you decide to study at JCU?  

I grew up in a very rural community in Oklahoma, and it felt so unrealistic to imagine that I could live outside of the United States. Still, my family has always stressed the importance of learning about other cultures and using travel to learn more about yourself. I went on a school trip to London, and after that, I could not see myself staying in the United States during college. As I applied for universities abroad, I saw an ad for JCU and began doing more research! The university really checked all the boxes; it’s in a beautiful country, I would be able to learn a new language, learn more about a new culture, and have an American degree at the end of my four-year college career. In the end, it was an easy decision to make for me. 

How has your experience at JCU been so far?  

My experience abroad has been interesting, to say the least. It has not gone to plan, especially with COVID-19, but living in Italy has taught me so much about myself and has helped me in all the ways I had hoped.  I wanted to experience and learn about more than the one country and the one state I’d been born into.  JCU has really offered me the chance to meet people from backgrounds I would not have been able to learn more about otherwise. I was told the four years I spent here would change my DNA.  It has certainly expanded my openness to experience and learn from everyone I meet and every place I go.  I worked hard to get to the position I am in now, and the professors here at JCU have really helped me in focusing on my goals and aspirations for the future. 

You hold many student leadership positions at JCU. Starting with the Black & African Student Association, can you tell us more about your position as president?  

I was a club member when the club was known as Africans in the World Cultural Club during my first year. It really helped me feel more at home in such a new environment and allowed me to learn more about the African continent and the abundance of culture and history from various countries. Especially after the pandemic, I really appreciated the community we had created here at JCU. My role as president is to continue learning and sharing and developing open lines of communication and shared experiences.  The hope is bridge-building, to make new connections with other Black and African students living abroad. It can be very ostracizing to feel like you are the only black kid in the room, and I remember growing up and really wishing that I had a community like this back home. I am extremely proud of the Board, and we have all worked hard to create events that are indeed educational and are sometimes just very fun to attend. Our Halloween haunted house last month was an example of how hardworking and creative our team is, and everyone who came to the event had such a wonderful time. We have our Annual Art Gallery this month, which is one of the best opportunities for students to learn more about African culture, taste great food, and listen to incredible music. 

How do you feel as an African-American student living in Italy?

Honestly, it can be difficult. I talk to my peers a lot about the issue of racism, not only here in Italy but around the world, and we can all agree that our American accents shield us in many ways. Even if I am not the target, it is very disheartening to see the migrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves get mistreated and disrespected purely based on their skin tone and negative preconceived notions. Rome is a big city, and it is diverse in itself, so when there are instances of racism, it can be shocking. I think people can be uncomfortable talking about racism and how people are affected, and the Black and African Student Association has really given a space to talk about these situations with a level of understanding and support that I do not think other groups can give us as well as we can give it to each other.  The organization is also welcoming to others who would like to meet with us, listen to our experiences and perhaps broaden their own self-reflection and understanding.  What is shared in meetings and events with members and other interested groups will perhaps be shared with their own friend groups and communities. Open communication will prepare us all for more positive and productive interactions long after school. 

You’re also Vice President of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Can you tell us more about it and your position?  

The Women’s Leadership Initiative was restarted after the pandemic, and our three pillars are advocacy, connection, and professional development. It is proven that female empowerment and leadership have wonderful effects on the overall community, often reducing poverty, benefiting the environment, and helping the economy. My position as vice president is not only to support our club members in their journeys, either professional or personal, but to aid them in finding opportunities to build professional skills, explore their interests and create a community. I think it is incredibly important to have a community like WLI to talk about issues that affect women living in a big city and to offer resources they may not have had otherwise. We are in the process of launching an equity project to make menstrual products readily available in the bathrooms, as well as offering networking events to our members to create a relationship with hardworking and inspiring women in Rome. These are just two of many projects and ideas that our board has created to create a more accessible community for the students at JCU. 

What skills would you say you’re developing in such high-stakes positions?  

My positions in both the Black and African Student Association and the Women’s Leadership Initiative have really taught me to be more confident in myself and the decisions I make. As a black woman, I have always felt insecure about how I am presented and what people think about me, but seeing the result of my hard work and dedication to my roles makes me much more confident. I also had issues with imposter syndrome and communicating when I needed help, but being in a leadership position is learning to rely on or delegate and communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, but the most important thing to remember is that I would not be in these positions if I were not fit for it or willing to learn and grow into the positions. 

And what about JERO International Consulting, where you’re currently Treasurer?  

JERO International Consulting is a Junior Enterprise within Rome that is dedicated to giving students an opportunity to learn more about consulting and gain hands-on experience. We work with clients in various areas, such as business and finance, marketing and communications, and human resources. We gain a lot of networking opportunities from attending conferences with other Junior Enterprises in Italy and many other countries. JERO is also really special, as we are one of the only junior enterprises in Italy that are international, meaning our board members speak a variety of languages. We are currently striving to expand our reach and connect with new clients internationally to build our network.  

As treasurer, I deal with collecting our associate’s fees, give a report at the end of the year, and advise on potential expenses that we could have throughout the semester. However, I also get to work with an incredible team of other students who are really dedicated to ensuring that JERO grows and continues to be successful.  

How did you learn about JERO’s reality, and why did you ultimately join?  

I learned about JERO via its Instagram page! I had done research on potential career fields I could enter postgraduate, and I was extremely interested in consulting. The organization looked very professional and offered opportunities to grow and take on more responsibility. My major is International Business, and JERO is the perfect bridge from the academic to my potential career. 

You’re majoring in International Business and minoring in Humanistic Studies. Why this combination?  

I absolutely adore the humanities and have always had a strong passion for reading and studying philosophy and art. However, I am very business-oriented and felt like the International Business major fit more into my vision of my life after college. I felt really comfortable with this combination as it satisfies my need to know more about everything. Even though I love learning about business, my minor really allows me to be more creative and expressive. I feel like the two go together really well and will aid me later on in my life and career. And who doesn’t feel that the field of business couldn’t benefit from a bit more humanity?  Also, humanity, regular people, can make better decisions for themselves and their communities when they have a truer grasp of business functions and considerations. 

What are your plans after graduating from JCU?

After JCU, I intend to return home and get work experience in the tech industry, especially in product management or user interface design. Eventually, I want to get my master’s degree in London and work there. I do not really see myself living and working back in the United States. I have really fallen in love with Europe and would like to stay here as long as possible. I came to JCU as the homebody “baby of the family,” and now I plan to live internationally. 

Finally, what advice would you give to JCU students looking forward to becoming more involved with Student Life?  

I think being a part of a club or trying to become a leader in any environment can be very intimidating. And it is important to recognize the fear, but go forward anyway, determined. And never forget that your opinions matter, and those feelings and opinions are oftentimes shared by others. And your involvement will likely encourage others. There are many different clubs at JCU, and they are all wonderful and made to be a community and an impetus for the development of like-minded individuals. Join.  Get involved. Grow.

You can connect with Kennedy on LinkedIn and get to know more about the student clubs and organizations she’s involved with through the following links: BASA, WLI, and JERO.