Women’s panel draws criticism over lack of diversity

“She Talks Utah,” an upcoming women’s panel is drawing criticisms from the community for the underrepresentation of women of color.

The second annual, “She Talks Utah” will be coming UVU Nov. 2, as part of the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker & Dialogue Series. The panelists featured are white and have ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Brigham Young University. According to the event flyer, “We have invited five fabulous Utah women from various backgrounds and sectors to speak briefly about how each has found both her unique voice and the courage to use it in different ways to be a force for good.”

Antonella Romero-Packard, state president of League of United Latin American Citizen and director of Utah County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, she found the list of panelists to be “incredibly troubling” and surprising. “How can you call yourself a leadership project of any sort when you’re stopping yourself of being more inclusive?” she said. “We’re incredibly diverse. This is something we find incredibly disconcerting”

Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Education Initiative and founder of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, said in an email to the UVU Review that the last event that was organized featured two out of the three workshop presenters were people of color. “I’ve had many groups related to women of color who have reached out and told me in the past week or so how much they appreciate our inclusivity in everything we do, including our research, events, and resources. I speak often to groups that focus on women of color as well,” said Madsen.

Last year, the event featured Utah Rep. Mia Love. This year, the panel will feature, Grammy-nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, award-winning author Shannon Hale, executive producer of KSL’s Studio 5, co-founder or chatbooks.com Vanessa Quigley, and Utah State Sen. Deidre Henderson.

According to Madsen, organizers looked for women with strong followings to make up the panel, “so it would motivate people to attend”. Madsen added that the panel took three months to confirm panelists and many of them had issues with schedules and could not make it work.

“We are very pleased with the line-up of people we have for the “She Talks” and have about 800 RSVPs already,” said Madsen.

Alex Melena, a student at UVU said the panel would benefit from representing diverse voices. “The majority of the people and the majority of the women I interact with on a day to day basis are not white Mormon women,” she said. “I would imagine that the conversation on the panel to be very one-sided.”

“I’d like to engage them in a meaningful conversation. We need to be having those conversations,” said Packard, who used to attend UVU.

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