New initiative connects BYU women with inspiration and resources

Female students engage in a lab meeting with psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad (out of frame). The College of Family, Home and Social Sciences has started an initiative to help female students feel empowered to pursue their aspirations and live successful lives. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

The College of Family, Home and Social Sciences began an initiative this semester to connect female students with the resources they need to be successful in life after graduation.

Three professional development committee members are spearheading the initiative: history professor Sarah Reed, sociology professor Scott Sanders and Lindsey Blau, academic and professional development manager for Liberal Arts Advisement and Careers. They launched the Women of FHSS website on Feb. 25 and will hold a kickoff event on March 25.

“I remember meeting with some women students in my office who felt like life had to be a certain way,” Blau said. “I remember being one of those students. When someone gives you the resources, it’s a really empowering feeling.”

The initiative’s mission is to “develop practices and programs that will help students identify and develop a deep understanding of career development experiences, promoting conversations that sustain fairness and equity as they seek multiple applications of a BYU education,” according to its website.

The website features interviews with a variety of women homemakers, professionals and returning students who share their journeys and experiences. Reed said she and her colleagues wanted students to see examples of what different paths could look like for them.

The website also includes recent news articles, a calendar of gender-related events and links to supporting organizations in Utah and on campus.

“I hope that women feel supported in whatever it is that they decide to do,” Blau said. “I feel a responsibility to help women overcome shame and guilt they might be feeling as they are true to themselves and their interests.”

A majority of women who come to BYU have an idea of what life is going to look like after graduation and struggle when it’s not realized, Blau said.

She said she faced this struggle herself when she graduated from Utah State University. She had planned on marrying early and having a large family but struggled when she found herself single for several more years.

“It would have been nice to know that my experience was actually pretty typical and to learn from other women how their faith developed and the things they accomplished being single,” she said. “It was almost like I needed permission to be OK where I was.”

Reed said she wants to reframe unmet expectations as “opportunities” for the students.

A lot of female students do not realize the opportunities before them and have the idea that they must choose a family or a career, Sanders said.

The Women of FHSS is not alone in this effort. “There’s a ton of resources and services available on campus, but you have to know how to navigate it,” Sanders said. He explained that one thing the initiative is trying to do is put all the campus resources for women in one place so people can find and use them.

The kickoff event on March 25 will give students the opportunity to meet face-to-face (over Zoom) with female panelists. Blau said she wants the event to be interactive, and she hopes attendees come with questions.

“We’re focused on FHSS, but we hope anybody takes advantage of it,” Reed said, referring to the initiative as a whole.

The eventual goal is to show how women and men can support one another and help them recognize the roles they can take in one another’s lives, Blau said.

She said the committee over the initiative is also conscious of unique challenges women of color face, and they are working with the Committee for Diversity, Collaboration and Inclusion to learn how to help women of all backgrounds.

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