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Utah women’s association with a long history of advocacy meets in St. George – St George News

Utah women’s association with a long history of advocacy meets in St. George – St George News
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ST. GEORGE — Scholarship programs, racial equity, pay gap issues and book banning were all on tap this weekend as the American Association of University Women gathered in St. George for its annual Utah State Conference.

This nonpartisan group promotes education for women, with an emphasis on fair pay and economic opportunities. The group also raises money for scholarships to enable economically disadvantaged women to receive a higher education.

A long history of advocacy

The American Association of University Women has been in existence since 1881. Laurie Hofmann is a member of the National Governance Committee and said Utah was an early partner in the effort to promote higher education and opportunities for women.

This photo shows Laurie Hofmann, American Association of University Women National Governance Committee Member, St. George, Utah, May 17, 2024 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

“We have been at the forefront of making sure that women had voting rights,” Hofmann said. “We were part of the Suffragette Movement in the early 1900s.”

Hofmann said the association places a strong emphasis on equal pay for equal work. Women make up nearly half of the workforce in the U.S. Despite this, data collected by the association indicates women who work full-time only make 84% of what men earn. Hofmann said the association is working to close that pay discrepancy.

“We were one of the first organizations that supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” Hofmann said. “This legislation is one of many steps to help women receive the pay they so rightly deserve.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Act was enacted in 2009 and aims to prohibit sex-based wage discrimination.

Emphasizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics

Jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be financially lucrative. Many of these positions are currently held by men, something the association is working to change.

Teri Jewell, the state president of the association, said the group promotes STEM programs for young women.

This photo shows Teri Jewell, American Association of University Women Utah State President, St. George, Utah, May 17, 2024 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

“Having a college degree helps with pay equity,” Jewell said. “We would like to see women paid as well as men.”

In St. George, the association holds an annual camp called eSMART (Exploring Science, Math and Related Technologies). Girls ages 13 and 14 participate in a four-day event held on the campus of Utah Tech University.

The girls stay in the dorms and attend classes in different buildings on campus, just like regular university students do. Courses include genetics, physiology, botany, physics, chemistry, coding, geology and food science. The classes are taught by volunteers who serve as role models for participants.

To further promote education for women, the association in St. George has an annual scholarship program. This year, the group awarded scholarships to 32 Southern Utah women totaling $36,750.

The group adopted a resolution during its convention to honor Kristin Williams for her work as the chairperson of its scholarship committee for the past two academic years.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

A new law regarding diversity, equity and inclusion programs for post secondary higher education will take effect in Utah this July. Dr. Tasha Toy, the keynote speaker for the association’s conference, said while things are changing, the effort to be more inclusive has not gone away.

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Dr. Tasha Toy of the Utah Women and Leadership Project speaks, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2024 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

“The way the bill is written has the expectation that it is opening the doors to more individuals,” Toy said. “It’s an opportunity to engage all of our students in a new light.”

Toy also used her speech to talk about the Utah Women and Leadership Project which she conducted along with two other researchers. This five-part series centered on women of color in Utah.

Toy said the study looked into health care access, demographics and earning potential for women of Asian, Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic and American Indian descent.

“Their earning potential is a lot less than their national counterparts,” Toy said. “One of the concerning things was that most of these women did not have access to health care.”

Attendees at the convention participated in exercises designed to give people a different way to look at racial issues.

“We spent time on how you can be an active listener, what your identities are and how you are connecting with other people,” Toy said.

Toy told conventiongoers that she believes the easiest way for people to promote gender and racial equality is to follow the principle of the “golden rule” by treating others as they would like to be treated.

Book banning

A new law called the Sensitive Materials Review Amendment goes into effect in Utah on July 1. The bill deals with what the State Legislature calls “pornographic or indecent” materials. Peter Bromberg, Associate Director of EveryLibrary, addressed this topic during the association’s convention.

EveryLibrary Associate Director Peter Bromberg speaks, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2024 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Bromberg said if just three school districts or five charter schools plus two school districts object to a book it believes falls within the structure of this new law, it will be removed from school libraries statewide.

“These are well-regarded novels, oftentimes award-winning novels,” Bromberg said. “Some of these books are on required advanced placement reading lists.”

Bromberg believes that when these novels are read as a complete work, it brings context to the content.

However, Bromberg said the new law does not allow school districts to read the whole book and assess it for its educational value as a complete body before deciding whether to keep it or remove it from the library. Some of these books include “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, and “Forever” by Judy Blume.

Bromberg said it is important for teachers, librarians and even authors to know the law because it was clearly stated during the bill’s legislative session that violating it would be a criminal act, subject to prosecution.

“This definition of sensitive materials does not actually meet the state standards for materials harmful to minors or the federal standard,” Bromberg said. “Groups like EveryLibrary.org are working to reverse some of the bills that they see as criminalizing librarianship and violating constitutional rights.”

For now, however, the Sensitive Materials Review Amendment is set to be enforced in Utah starting this July.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.





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