WLS Gives Students “Power to Define”

Courtesy WLS

One size doesn’t often fit all, and one definition hardly fits every person.

Topics like leadership, empowerment and feminism often carry different connotations and meanings, and this year’s Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) is trying to embrace that intersectionality at this year’s event, titled “Power to Define.”

The WLS will convene in the Union ballroom on Tuesday, March 6, from 1:30-5 p.m. as a part of Women’s Week at the University of Utah. As co-chair of the event, Tasha Myers, who is the Student Leadership and Involvement director, wants students to walk away with a better understanding of themselves.

“The planning committee is hoping that attendees will leave feeling empowered to define what leadership means to them, as well as to claim and reclaim the power to define all of their identities,” Myers said.

With the ability to self-identify and the opportunity to network with like-minded people, WLS co-chair Kirstin Maanum hopes participants are able to go beyond surface level definitions, because she said there isn’t always a catch-all response.

Maanum is a women’s education specialist at the Women’s Resource Center. While this is the first year she is serving as co-chair of the event, Maanum has always been invested in female empowerment. Previously, she worked in education programs at Planned Parenthood for six years, where she focused her efforts on leadership for young adults — helping them learn to advocate for themselves and become leaders in their community.

Together, Maanum and Myers are making sure the event runs without a snag and that everything comes together. With the amount of support they’ve received, they’re confident the summit will be a success.

“Everyone … comes with a can-do attitude, [and] there are women across campus working together to present a great event for the community,” Myers said.


Although it is named the Women’s Leadership Summit, the event is open to all U students. Maanum estimates that out of 100 participants in 2017, about 5-10 percent identified as male. She said men are more than welcome to attend.

“It’s open to all genders to come and claim their power to define,” Myers said.

The feminist movement sometimes receives backlash for not being as inclusive of women of color. The keynote address of the WLS is aiming to disband that narrative by having the womyn of Las Cafeteras speak (womyn is a non-traditional way of spelling women to avoid ending the word with men).

The keynote is titled “Mujer Soy: Reclaiming Identity, Sisterhood and Mujerismo.” Mujerismo roughly translates to womanism or feminism. It will address what social and cultural influences impact female identity, privilege and power, perceptions of gender and how to reclaim diversity of womyn’s experiences.

Maanum and Myers said they didn’t actually choose the womyn of Las Cafeteras to speak, things just fell into place. Las Cafeteras was already going to be on campus on Wednesday, March 7, as a part of an event hosted by UtahPresents, globalFEST On the Road, so Maanum and Myers seized the opportunity. Las Cafeteras attends events like WLS across the country, and Maanum and Myers chose this specific presentation because they felt it was most applicable to the summit and the U’s campus as a whole.

“This one speaks to a wide variety of audiences, not just white women, white [cisgender] women, but a much broader audience,” Maanum said. “[It also fit] the theme of someone’s own story and using that and your narrative to advance yourself or, in our case, the leadership you bring to the table.”

Women at the Helm

The notion that women are not capable of leading, Myers argued, actually helps women excel in a variety of leadership positions.

“Every time we see a woman in leadership, it is another crack in the glass ceiling,” Myers said. “It makes it easier to work toward the day when a woman won’t have a ceiling to limit her.”

As of May 2017, women accounted for 27 percent of college presidents and they comprised 31 percent of full-time professors, according to the Center for American Progress.

With Ruth Watkins being unanimously selected to lead the U as its first female president, Maanum likes to think it provides more women with a source of inspiration — a sense of belonging and knowing they can accomplish anything. She also attributed this thinking to the rise of the #MeToo movement, and while she hopes the phrase has been said in the past, something she keeps hearing is, “2018 is the year of the woman.”

Since the U is a state-funded institution, Maanum is looking forward to seeing how Watkins will interact with the legislature.

“Our legislature, which is highly and predominantly men, will be looking to Ruth as that leader and I just think it’s a really exciting, interesting time for our campus,” Maanum said. “[It’s also exciting] for women who are looking for ways that they fit into the larger picture, whether it’s policy-making, being a leader on campus or in the community and having their voice heard.”

Summit Rundown

The cost of the workshop is $5, though according to Maanum, cost shouldn’t be a determining factor. Students may be able to register for free if they are sponsored by a department at the U, or they can email Teresa Pond at t.pond@union.utah.edu to inquire about additional sponsorships.

Although the final day of registration is listed as Feb. 26 on the site, students will be able to register on the same day of the event.

As the summit looks to enable students with the power to define, Maanum hopes students come away with a new sense of empowerment. Though “the hard part is support and empowerment looks different for every woman,” according to Myers, the work her and Maanum have put into the event shows common ground can be achieved in diversity.

“If we’re just reinforcing the patriarchy by keeping other women down or being more critical of other women, that’s not helping anybody’s cause,” Maanum said. “I like to think that the summit is one of many opportunities across campus where we lift up a wide variety of student voices or staff voices where they can highlight some of their skills, and this year we’re really looking at knowledge and experience and skills as it relates to leadership.”



Kim Brenneisen
Kim Brenneisen is currently serving as the print managing editor for The Daily Utah Chronicle, but she has been on staff for three years in a variety of roles. She interned for ESPN this past summer, was a student writer for the NCAA and interned at MLB.com in 2016.


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