On September 22, 2022, Jennifer Ortiz, director for the Utah Division of State History, visited BYU for the annual Fernando R. Gomez lecture. Jennifer’s vision and intention for State History includes diversifying the narratives we collectively share as a state and ensuring those who practice history better reflect our demographics in Utah.
History is the way people want to express themselves. Jennifer Ortiz, the first woman to run the 125-year-old organization and the first person to identify as a minority, shared with students and faculty about The Peoples of Utah Revisited program. The multi-year initiative is designed to celebrate Utah’s diverse past and is a follow-up to the original Peoples of Utah project published over 50 years ago.
The initiative is comprised of a variety of events to teach families and communities how to record, scan, and treasure their history. “The goal for the project,” says Ortiz, “ is working with community groups to tell their stories in ways they want to tell them; to gather those untold stories, amplify misrepresented voices, and share with communities across the state that their stories are important.”
Along with this major project, Ortiz spotlighted an assortment of projects focused on the last 50 years of Utah’s history created to document history for the misunderstood and growing populations in the state. Amongst these are the Utah Historical Quarterly, which presents updated research in the field of Utah History; the Women’s history initiative, which examines the contributions Utah women have made over the years; and the collections and library program, which houses a host of Utah artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts.
Ortiz emphasized how the original Peoples of Utah project changed the trajectory of public history in the state saying, “It really laid the foundation for diversity in teaching scholarship on Utah history.” She encouraged all to get involved in recording their personal history.
Madeleine Wallis, a senior studying economics, came to BYU thinking that her education was her backup plan in case she didn’t have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. However, along the way she realized that “my education isn’t my backup plan, it is my life!”
“Once I realized this is my life and I am just as deserving of a quality education and a successful career as any man, my eyes were opened,” says Wallis. “I want every woman at BYU to know that she not only belongs here but is valued. We need your perspectives and bright minds. This is not your backup plan — this is your life, and you deserve every bit of it.”
Like Wallis, women often face particular gendered obstacles as they navigate the academic landscape, consider opportunities, and make important education and career decisions. Female students at BYU face additional challenges because of perceived religious and cultural ideas, and many report feeling underprepared when life after graduation is different than imagined.
“Utah’s female college and university students are more likely to end up in the ‘some college, no degree’ category of educational statistics, and to self-select into lower-paying fields,” according to a Salt Lake Tribune article on female college students in Utah.
Lindsey Blau, academic and professional development manager in Liberal Arts Advisement and Careers at BYU, and professors Scott Sanders (Sociology) and Sarah Reed (History), are launching the Women of FHSS initiative to foster an environment where all women in family, home, and social science majors thrive and are encouraged to identify and pursue educational and career opportunities.
“Women face the challenge of understanding during college and even after graduation how their education and their life roles work together,” says Blau. “Our goal is to help our female students understand how they can integrate their education into their lives in ways that uniquely distinguish them for a wide range of possibilities.”
A website of resources now available
The Women of FHSS website went live on Feb. 25 and is designed to help students learn from the experiences of other women and use those stories to broaden their perspective.
“Many of our female students have amazing ideas of where their life will go but data shows that many of these ideas of are not realized by the time they graduate,” says Blau. “We want to help our students develop a deeper understanding of future possibilities and explore multiple applications of a BYU education.”
On the site, students can read or watch interviews of educated women in many different life circumstances — single or married with a career, pursuing graduate studies, as a non-traditional (returning) student, at home with children, and more. Students will also find guidance on resources available both on BYU campus and in the state, as well as data trends about women in Utah.
For example, 51% of Latter-day Saint women over the age of 18 are single and 48% are employed and working outside the home. “Yet, we see women continue to struggle as they pursue opportunities that are not directly related to marriage and family because of perceived religious and cultural stigmas,” says Blau.
Join us for a launch event
Students can register for the Women of FHSS kick-off event scheduled for Thursday, March 25 at 11 a.m. MST.
The kick-off will include four college alumna who will share the decisions they have made while juggling life, career, family and fulfillment. Learn how they view their education and its importance as a foundation in their life.
Blau hopes the program will help women remember their worth, explore multiple opportunities after graduation, and develop the skills and confidence for whatever life has in store for them. Blau wants women to develop the attitude of designing their lives and not letting life happen without intentional reflection, intervention and inspiration.
“Learn where your strengths are and how you can integrate your interests and passions to fit your life,” says Blau.
In the future, the Women of FHSS subcommittee plans to expand this initiative to include how men can become allies to the women in their lives. Blau says the only way this organization will achieve its mission is if men and women work together.