University cancels leadership conference over lack of diversity

A Catholic university in Minnesota cancelled a leadership conference it had planned to host in January after determining that it had selected an insufficiently diverse pool of speakers.

This year’s 2nd annual Leadership Imperative Conference was supposed to be held on January 19 at St. Catherine University. This event was intended to be an “interactive leadership conference for emerging and current women leaders across industries.” 

For reasons not indicated on their website, however, the conference was canceled in early December—after thirty speakers were already picked to attend.

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Upon obtaining an email sent out to the speakers, the university stated that the conference was called off because the presenters who had been selected to speak at the conference did not “reflect the diverse St. Kate’s community of today nor the world of tomorrow we are committed to creating.” 

According to the author of the email, the cancellation was not due to “the quality of [the speaker’s] presentation material or credentials.” Rather, the organizers of this event insisted on “modeling the ideal state today in everything we do.”

The blind process used to pick the speakers was based solely on the themes of the conference—“Explore your purpose, Ignite your passion, and Inspire excellence.” This was designed to eliminate over-representing certain industries over others.

Apparently, this process yielded results that “led to a racial and ethnic blind outcome.”

This suggests that most, if not all the scheduled speakers ended up being white. Consequently, the speakers were determined to be an unacceptable representation of the “ideal state” envisioned by conference organizers.

This event was an opportunity for 30 qualified women with diverse upbringings and areas of expertise to advance their careers and that of others by meeting new contacts and networking. If not for the color of their skin—which became an issue only after the blind selection process—they would have gotten the chance to do so.

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Unfortunately, this is not uncommon in Minnesota. 

As the Star Tribune reported last August, the “Loft Literary Center’s conference on writing for children and young adults” was also canceled after complaints that 21 of 22 speakers were white. This was not an intentional outcome and only occurred because many of the “writers of color” could not make it during MEA weekend.

Minnesotan Shannon Gibney, the author of the Minnesota award-winning book See No Color, discussed her take on this issue with the Star Tribune

“The times I’ve been to that conference it has felt stiflingly white, definitely stiflingly older white woman, stiflingly suburban,” she said. “Because of that, it hasn’t been a space where, as a newer writer of color, it is really useful for me.”

This article was originally published in The Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper affiliated with the Leadership Institute’s Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished here with permission.

Follow The Claremont Independent on Twitter: @CmontInd