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University canceled conference because every speaker was white

Nearly thirty white female speakers deemed not ‘diverse’ enough

St. Catherine University recently canceled a one-day conference designed to equip and empower women for leadership roles due to the fact that every speaker scheduled to appear was white.

In particular, the line-up consisted of attractive white women mostly in their middle ages with blond or brown hair. The College Fix reached out to about a dozen of the speakers slated to present at the conference, and they all refused to comment on the cancellation.

“The Leadership Imperative: Rise to Your Purpose” was intended to “equip both emerging and seasoned female professionals with the tools they need to become impactful, respected leaders,” according to the conference website.

It was originally scheduled for Jan. 19 at the St. Paul, Minn.-based school, a private Catholic institution with a women-only undergrad program.

But the event was canceled several weeks prior, with university officials stating in an email to speakers the decision was made because the lineup did “not reflect the diverse St. Kate’s community of today nor the world of tomorrow we are committed to creating,” Minnesota Republic reported.

The email reportedly added that the credentials of the speakers is strong but organizers were concerned that selecting quality speakers “led to a racial and ethnic blind outcome.”

Though the university apparently did not specify how the speaker lineup was not “diverse” enough in the email, an analysis by The College Fix found that the speaker list for the event was composed entirely of white women.

A rundown of the speakers on the university’s website shows a speaker lineup consisting of 100 percent white woman. Of the 29 white female speakers listed on the site, 28 of them have pictures; Margaret Smith, the only speaker without a photograph, is also white.

Reached via email for comment, Smith told The Fix that she “was to be a speaker for this conference and received a very respectful note from the planners regarding the cancellation.” Asked for a copy of the cancellation notice, Smith told The Fix: “I do not feel it is appropriate for me to forward that note to you.”

The Fix reached out to 10 speakers who were to present at the conference, and none were willing to provide the email sent to them informing them of the event’s cancellation.

The Fix asked Kristen Brown, the keynote speaker for the event, if she was told why the event was canceled. Brown told The Fix via email: “I wasn’t part of the conference committee so I don’t know the details.” Brown ignored a request from The Fix for a copy of the cancellation notice.

Reached for comment via email, speaker Megan Betterman suggested The Fix speak to St. Catherine University directly. Another speaker, Sarah Rand, forwarded The Fix’s email to a school dean. The dean did not reply.

Speakers Sara Lebens, Anne Gold, Jeanne Bailey, Alison Khan, and Kate Ostrem all did not respond to The Fix’s request for comment.

The College Fix reached out multiple times to members the university for comment, including President Rebecca Koenig Roloff and the Executive Assistant to the President Bryonie Moon. Neither responded.

As the Minnesota Republic had pointed out in its report, a similar cancellation occurred at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis in August 2017 when that organization was set to hold a conference on writing for children and young adults.

The Star Tribune reported that 21 out of 22 speakers who would appear at the conference were white, and the university says this was a “mistake.”

“We have set a goal for ourselves to be inclusive and to work toward equity, and we didn’t think the conference would live up to that mission,” Britt Udesen, executive director of the Loft Literary Center, told The Tribune at the time.

MORE: Stanford history conference was ‘too white’ and ‘too male’

MORE: University teaches students ‘counternarratives around whiteness’

MORE: University teaches white employees how to overcome the ‘discomfort’ of being white

IMAGE: Koldunova Anna / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Matthew Stein -- Swarthmore College