Over 100 students, staff and community members attended the Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS), an event aimed to empower participants through discussions centered around the theme, “Her: Story, Movement, Life.” The summit, which has taken place annually for a number of years, was organized by the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Student Leadership & Involvement.
Summit co-chair Kim Hall, Associate Director of WRC, said her vision is to provide a space for young women to have and express ideas that stem from their different orientations on life, encouraging women to “celebrate the life we’re living and creating.”
Tasha Myers, Director of Student Leadership & Involvement and co-chair of WLS, talked about the significance of the three keywords — story, movement and life — as the “phases of a woman.” “Story” relates to life “from her perspective,” “movement” represents advocacy as an individual and a community, and “life” constitutes a woman’s “span of experiences.” Though the theme of the summit is geared toward women, Myers stressed that men are welcome and that the event is designed to explore intersectionality while moving the needle on women’s issues.
Myers also emphasized the importance of the U’s Women’s Enrollment Initiative, a program designed to retain women at the university and open up academic and career opportunities.
The summit kicked off with an enthusiastic introduction from Ruth Watkins, Vice President of Academic Affairs. Watkins told the audience that it is a “bad idea to wait for perfect,” and that women should seize the moment and think past their target to develop a strategy to get there.
The event took cues from TEDx talks, with keynote speakers setting the tone before breaking into smaller discussions. The keynote addresses were delivered by Irene Maya Ota, Lynne Roberts and Nubia Peña.
Roberts, head coach of the U’s women’s basketball team, elaborated on the theme of “her life.” Roberts emphasized a quality she referred to as “grit,” or in her words, “the ability to push a boulder up a hill.” As a woman in a role traditionally filled by a man, Roberts had enlightening advice for summit attendees, underscoring the need to work harder than male colleagues to attain personal success. She advised women to find mentors and to work with one another to achieve their dreams while seizing opportunities and blazing their own trail.
Peña received her Juris Doctorate from the U College of Law in 2016. Peña has worked extensively with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault and serves as an advocate for the rights of youth in detention at the Utah Juvenile Defenders Office. Speaking to “her story,” Peña challenged women to “own your space, and stop giving people a reason to take away your power.” Reflecting on her own challenged youth, she counseled the audience to seek out their passion in life while defining success on individual terms. Peña ended her talk with an uplifting call-and-response exercise that moved participants into more intimate breakout meetings.
Topics addressed in the smaller sessions varied widely, from politician and Women’s Leadership Institute CEO Pat Jones’ discussion on why women should run for office, to model and skier Sierra Quitiquit’s dialogue on beauty standards and body image. Krista Parry, the Senior Vice President of Powdr Corp., echoed Peña’s message of self-defined success, urging her group to “fake it ’til you make it.”
Attendees took a positive message away from the summit. When asked why they chose to attend, Naba, a senior in the Urban Ecology and Planning major, and Asma, a staff member at the School of Business, highlighted the networking opportunities and inspiration that comes from meeting like-minded individuals. Both enjoyed a workshop presented by Libia Marqueza Castro titled “Fighting Impostor Syndrome,” about not being afraid to be yourself and pursuing what you want. Both said they are eager to attend the summit next year.