Protesters Attend Women In Leadership Symposium


Junior Anne Want was one of the protesters at the Women in Leadership Symposium. Photo by Natalie Mutter

Mikaela Slade

A group of female Whitman students gathered tonight at the Women in Leadership Symposium in order to protest the lack of diversity among the symposium’s panelists over the last several years; only one in fifteen panelists has been a woman of color since 2011.

After sending a multitude of emails to the Student Engagement Center over the last day, the protest group occupied the two front rows of the auditorium. Protesters silently held signs while all three panelists, Ann Watson ‘84, Maria Denny ‘84 and Sarah Geren ‘84 gave their speeches.

After the speeches finished, five student protesters stood up to give speeches on the lack of diversity on the panel. They argued that the symposium failed to adequately represent women in leadership by hosting an overwhelming majority of white women.

One of the leaders who delivered a speech was junior Angela Tang. According to Tang, the problems with the seminar was not the panelists themselves, but the event’s lack of diversity and the repetition of this problem throughout the years. Tang then proceeded to read from a letter that was sent into the SEC.

“While I am thankful that this program exists for this particular purpose, I will not be attending this event because I feel that it does not properly represent Women in Leadership,” said Tang. “Because all the women featured in your event are white, this event promotes an unrealistic notion that professional success if limited to women of a certain skin color.”

After these speeches, the first two rows in the auditorium and all those who were in support of their protest got up and left. Outside Olin Tang gave a brief speech about what they had accomplished through their protest.

“What we are hoping to get out of this is more representation, but thoughtful representation, so not asking only people of color to attend this event; we are asking to be represented like we deserve to,” said Tang.

However, after the protest they were displeased with the response that they received from the the event’s host, Colleen Willoughby ‘55. Willoughby promised to take protesters’ suggestions into consideration and include greater diversity in next year’s symposium and she is open to student participation. However, according to Tang, protesters want a student committee to select two of the three panelists for next year’s symposium, and were not satisfied with Willoughby’s promise.  

Protesters filled the first two rows of the audience. Photo by Natalie Mutter.
Protesters filled the first two rows of the audience. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

“For future years we are hoping that two of the three panelist will be student-selected, and we expect that the people and the pool that we have to select from in significantly larger and [its candidates are]actually inherently different,” said Tang.

After listening to the protesters the panelists began to speak about what they do to integrate diversity into their own lives as well as address the issues that were around when they were in college compared to the problems that are apparent today. Willoughby was optimistic that an agreement could quickly be reached to meet protesters’ goals, and complimented the protesters.

“They did it in a very civil fashion, they were clear, they were concise, and there was no doubt about what was in their hearts, and I think we need to accept that in exactly the same way. I think they did a remarkable job of organizing this themselves and preparing statements for us all to hear, and them to hear in a very civil manner,” said Willoughby.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the organizer’s stance on the protester’s requests.