St. Catherine University President Becky Roloff sent this campuswide e-mail Dec. 8, 2017 announcing the cancellation of the 2018 Leadership Imperative Conference:
In a time where sexism and racism, in their individual and institutional forms, are recognized and called out, those of us in positions of power and privilege — be it through whiteness, maleness, middle-class position, heterosexual-normativity, ability, or Christianity — must slow down, reflect, and listen to those who have been subject to systematic silencing, exploitation, marginalization, and exclusion.
Based on our Sisters of St. Joseph heritage and our deep commitment to social justice, in all its forms, my note today is specifically about our obligation, commitment, and responsibility to make room for everyone at the table.
For the past several years, we have held a successful Leadership Imperative symposium here on campus. This is a daylong conference planned with the intention of providing a gathering space for women to come together and consider our many gifts and opportunities, and to focus on how we make the most of our talents and lifetime achievements. In 2017, over 200 women attended this successful conference. Based on the strength of both the need for such a space and conversation and the strong, positive feedback from the conference, a group of faculty from these programs set about planning the 2018 Leadership Imperative Conference: Rise to Your Purpose, planned for 1/19/2018.
The planning has been done the way it has always been done and who among us has not performed a similar task the way we have had success in the past? Unfortunately, we have learned the hard lesson that replicating past processes and "business as usual" are often how institutional racism and sexism are perpetuated. We did not set a goal to secure a diverse panel of presenters with multiple and critical perspectives, that accurately reflects the St. Kate's community of today and the world of leadership we are committed to creating. Because of this, the racial and ethnic diversity of women in leadership positions was not reflected in the conference material or agenda to the extent that reflects the social justice change we hope our mission and vision drives.
I have asked the planners to cancel this conference. Today, we will be communicating this decision to the 30+ presenters, the sponsors we are seeking, and all of the registered conference attendees. We will take this as an opportunity to study the planning process (for this, and for all offerings at St Kate's) and build a process that is inclusive and represents the true image of who we are on our best days, and how we educate women who will insist on what the world could be — a world that is free of racism, sexism, and all ideologies and practices that get in the way of truly "loving our dear neighbors."
Our planning process was not structured for inclusive representation. Trying to change it quickly when the reality arose can't turn it into what it was not. It is important to own where we are short, own what we can do to stop a process if it is taking us the wrong direction and to offer sincere apology for injuries caused. It is also to thank the alumnae, and members of our faculty and staff who recognized the situation and took the time to educate and advocate.
As we continue our work toward a more inclusive and just world, we make mistakes. It is important that we recognize and learn from them. It is the only way to the future we are all committed to achieving.