St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota, canceled a leadership conference last fall because too many of the scheduled speakers were white.
According to a report from the Star Tribune, details are emerging on why St. Catherine’s University canceled a leadership conference that was scheduled to take place last fall. The university published a statement last week acknowledging that the conference was canceled because the speaker list was not sufficiently diverse.
“We did not feel the list [of speakers] adequately represented the St. Kate’s community or fulfilled the objective of lifting up the voices of all women,” the statement read. “While this was a tough decision, we believe it was an important one.”
St. Catherine’s President, Becky Roloff, acknowledged that the decision was made due to the lack of diversity in an email that was sent to the campus community back in December.
“We did not set a goal to secure a diverse panel of presenters,” Roloff wrote. “Because of this, the racial and ethnic diversity of women in leadership positions was not reflected in the conference …” She did not state what the racial breakdown was, but she expressed her “sincere apology for injuries caused.”
Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito, a Minnesota area author and publisher, said that she was disappointed that the event was canceled for diversity reasons.
“I was disappointed that it was canceled because I was excited to be a part of it,” she said. “When I submit something to a conference as a speaker, I have the understanding that they’re going to choose me on what I’m going to present and the value of that to their audience. I’m not expecting that they’re going to choose me on the basis of the color of my skin.”
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) attorney Ari Cohn said that the solution to the event’s diversity issues should have been to add speakers.
“Event organizers are free to shape their events in the way they deem fit,” Cohn said. “However, if diversity is the issue, the more proper solution would seem to be to add to the event rather than cancel it entirely, which prevents any voice from being heard.”
John Hinderaker, president of the Minneapolis-based Center of the American Experiment, blasted St. Catherine’s for the decision, specifically pointing out that canceling the event hurts the students that the event was designed to help.
“It’s really almost comical that they’re forced to admit that they did this strictly on the basis of merit and they characterize this as a mistake,” Hinderaker said. The losers, he notes, are the very people they set out to help.
“Instead of providing the benefit to the [participants] that they intended to provide, they’d rather do nothing apparently,” he added. “It’s really kind of a classic story of how everything gets sacrificed in the name of diversity.”