This spring I decided I needed to go visit my hapless son out at Utah State for an in-person wellness check and come to Jesus. There was an LDS church history conference at USU during the weekend that was convenient for me to go up, so I booked myself a room at the University Inn on USU campus, rented a car, and made a general nuisance of myself for a day or so in Logan. In order to make the trip worthwhile (and less like I was spying on my kid, which I was definitely doing), I stayed for an extra week to see BYU Women’s Conference, which I haven’t attended since I was a student there. During the trip I visited friends and family in Logan, Tooele, Orem, Bountiful, Salt Lake, and Payson, plus I even attended an institute class in the home of Ardeth Kapp, which was a real highlight of the trip for me. My internet friend, Shauna, and I finally met in person on temple square — another huge highlight. I trash talk Utah a lot — a WHOLE lot — and I feel justified after living there ten very long years. But I have to admit I had a fantastic trip. I attended an amazing missionary musical presentations Tooele with my friend’s children performing, hit the temple twice (Bountiful with my cousin’s wife, Janice, and Salt Lake with Shauna), toured part of the Church History Library, ate in the COB cafeteria, and even got myself biscuits and gravy at the BYU Creamery (still terrible, for the record) reminiscing about the good old’ days when best friend and I would attempt to sate our craving for Southern food at the Creamery. It didn’t work.
Sorry, Utah. Calling yourself Dixie doesn’t make your food good.
But really it was a good time. I haven’t been enjoying church much and so it was nice to feel the spirit so strongly and to hear/talk about the gospel with people who knew their stuff. It was pretty awesome when Sister Kapp called me the most knowledgeable about the gospel in her class (I was). She is so humble and personable. I want to be her when I grow up.
I think I will try to stop talking so badly about Utah.
So, what follows is a description of my experience at BYU Women’s Conference 2019, which includes my experience working hospitality.
Check In / Digs
Checking in to my room wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of fun. Parking was screwed up due to some construction, and my room was not at Helaman like I had thought. BYU RAs checked me in initially to the room of another Jennifer Smith, and the roommate was super rude and obnoxious. I didn’t mind leaving. The second room at the new Heritage Halls was very near where I used to live in T-hall. It was a nice enough room, but bedding was not very good, and I hadn’t brought shampoo since I was staying in hotels. Oops. I ended up washing my hair with bar soap, which as you can tell by the picture in my hospitality apron was not a winning choice:
Everything BYU is always clean, so that was good. They had the living room/kitchens locked, so we could only use the bedrooms, which was not awesome. It was only three days and only $50 or so for the whole four day stay, but the digs were still kind of spartan and frankly, uncomfortable. I didn’t have trouble making the walk up and down from campus (it’s a lot farther than I remember), but older people might.
I shared a suite with 5 other women who were all from the same family. They were nice enough, but that was also a little awkward. It would have been more fun to stay with singles or pairs, so that I could have made some friends — BYU could certainly have arranged that. It was fine though. I was there three nights, I think. On the fourth night I decided to just leave and book a hotel room near the airport so that I didn’t have to get up at 3am to drive to Salt Lake for my very early flight, and to be more comfortable. I will avoid the dorms next time and find some friends or family to stay with instead.
Talks / Service Projects
The talks I got to see were mostly hit with very few misses. I admit to quite a little shock discovering that there were so many men speaking. I guess probably 35% or more of the speakers were male. Disappointing. One of the two evening keynote speakers was male, too, an apostle. His talk was broadcast along with the women’s talks the day before. But it was still disappointing. We have so many talented and well-educated women at the top of their professions. Maybe they aren’t as popular as Brad Wilcox, but they could be if someone would let them speak. I was quite a bit annoyed that many speakers were grouped into teams. Most often these seemed to be unmarried male-female pairs who didn’t know each other but who had submitted similar talk topics deemed not important enough for their own rooms, and assigned to team teach. These were always the weakest presentations. Gotta stop with that, organizers.
I missed one talk I wanted, and got shunted around for the mental health one due to technical difficulties in the overflow rooms, but generally speaking, things were run fairly smoothly (can testify thy were not run well at the HFAC).
Mental health-related courses were the most popular after the Famous Speakers. Lots of people from the community invited themselves over to the Marriott Center to see the apostle speak — just as they did when I was a student there, so that was filled with lots of people.
I appreciated the little booklet provided by SingersCompany.com since I was coming from out of town on a super cheap ticket with no carryon, and I used it to take notes on the classes that I did get to attend. The lines were too tall and pages too short to have lasted me 2 whole days, but I didn’t need it since I was hospitality the second day. The talks I took notes on were:
- “Seek this Jesus” by Julie B. Beck
- “Parenting Children with Depression and Anxiety” by Courtney Merrill Moffat and Kara Cattani
- “The Godhead: Providing Peace, Guidance, and Assurances” Jeanne Burgon Christopher Kirkland
- “Preparing for, Receiving, and Acting on Revelation” by Rebecca Pinegar
I didn’t go to the service project and instead had supper with my nearby family, so I can’t say how that went. The take and make activities seemed to be very popular with the fidget learner crowd. (Basically they have craft kits ready and you assemble them as you listen to speakers. It’s usually cards or sewing type things.) Over 200,000 items were donate because of the BYU Women’s Conference. That’s amazing:
The conference organizers have a very difficult time estimating crowd/room sizes for varying presentations. This was the same when I attended the conference over 20 years ago. I don’t know why they don’t just ask ahead of time what classes people plan to attend in order to choose appropriate rooms. It’s super lame for speakers to speak to an empty room when next door people are frustrated because they can’t get in or because the overflow is overflowing and now they’re too irritated to even go to a second-choice class.
Men at Women’s Conference
It’d be hard to overstate how very many ran stuff or presented or acted as meeting openers. This is a big nope for me. It’s not like Women’s Conference is an official church or priesthood event. It’s run by BYU in partnership with the General RS board. Pisses me off that so many men had their fingers in it for no reason. GO HOME, DUDES.
Prayers in sessions were almost always given by men — “VIPs” in attendance who were seated in the special seats. Also super obnoxious.
The emcees for most of the rooms in the HFAC were men, who were “overseeing” the hospitality crew. Some of them were university employees, but not were just community fellas. I could see this if emceeing would prevent women from seeing the presentation, but of course, it doesn’t. Women should be doing this very visible job, even if it’s just women at the conference.
Doing Hospitality at BYU Women’s Conference
The second day of the conference I helped out with the hospitality committee. It was …. not my favorite. Basically your job at hospitality is to herd cats, er, women, but being Mormon women, there are lots of “rules” but no actual rules and since attendees are adults no one can enforce “rules” or even actual rules them anyway, so while necessary, the gig is not fantastic. I was assigned to be a hallway cat herder outside one theater along with two others. I could have handled the job all by myself, tbh — I am that bossy — but having others around made it suck less since I couldn’t hear the talks where we were. Most of the jobs did get to hear talks, though, and the organizers set it up so their friends get to meet the famous people that show up. Overall it was a big ball of fine.
I conformed and bought a dress to wear (they have a dress code that is kind of silly: “Dress appropriately. Dress appropriately. We ask you to please wear a skirt or a dress. Wear very comfortable shoes and little or no perfume (many sisters have allergies).”), because they kept bringing it up, and I didn’t think BYU Women’s Conference is the place to draw a line in the sand about women policing other women’s appropriate dress.
We were asked not to bring “personal items” like a large purse (?), but despite warnings, there was plenty of space to store stuff at the HFAC at least. We were supposed to bring our own lunches and water bottles, which I did, but honestly it would have been better to just go get food somewhere. Since I couldn’t hear the presentations anyway, it would have been fine to go to the Wilkinson Center after the rush when people changed classes and go get something hot to eat.
The women I served with were nice. The work was dull. If you were there, I was the loudmouth directing traffic at the HFAC, reminding women not to save seats and explaining how to get the “password” to go to the restroom. So not my cup of tea. I mean I’ll do it, and the Utahns loved it when I told them “I don’t wanna hafta call your momma” and the like, but it’s just not my favorite way to be. Toward the end I stood on a wall doing a crazy hand motion while shouting “DeJong, Pardoe, Madsen” to help people find their correct location, and honestly, that kept traffic moving along better than anything else I did. It was tiring, but yeah, necessary. Not every woman would be comfortable standing on a wall to direct a few thousand strangers in the correct direction, but I’m okay to do it. I just don’t love it.
There was a little awkwardness when it became apparent that my friend’s daughter, who I agreed to do hospitality for, had described me as a Mormon influencer of some type to others present. I tried not to notice. I’ve actively tried to avoid that kind of attention for the past twelve years, and now I’m even less likely to seek it. I’m trying to get myself out of the spotlight all together. I don’t know if I’ll keep contributing to Mormonism’s cachet of help or not. I’m leaning not these days….
Conference organizers gave a free conference ticket (a $25 value!) in exchange for doing hospitality. I had already paid for one ticket, so I gave the second to a “close” relative: my mom’s second cousin’s daughter in law. I think. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see her again, lol.
Working hospitality was … fine… but I would not do it again myself. I want to the talks that I’m flying 2500 miles to enjoy.
At the evening keynote I ran into a missionary who served in our area who was selling t-shirts in the bookstore tent (I didn’t remember him at all, and I think he only recognized me because my nametag included my hometown) and some members of the stake who were also out for the conference. Mormondom is a freakishly small world sometimes.
As I mentioned, I had left the dorms and booked a room near the airport so that I didn’t have to get up at 3am to get to Salt Lake for my very early flight. Once I got there I found and double booked myself a cheap second flight on Spirit Air that had a 35-minute connection in Denver in order to try and get home 10 hours earlier. It worked! I made the connection easily.
I was glad to get home to Jared and Sydney. When I got home there were 6 candles on the kitchen counter, which beat the fruit flies and worse in the trash I came home to the last time I left them for any length of time, but I was still suspicous — especially because they kept assuring me they had kept the house SO CLEAN while I was gone.
Your clean is not my clean, saith the Lord.
So, in sum, BYU women’s conference was very good. Like most women’s activities in the LDS church it’s “women’s” in title only. There were FAR TOO MANY MEN “Supervising” and “Presiding” and lending “real authority”. Go away, boys. The check in process should have been better. And the overflow situation has been out of control for at least twenty years. But, it’s a great weekend with good people sharing good thoughts, and even though I’d prefer a women’s conference run by women for women featuring.. women, it’s worth attending. I’ll go in 2020 if I can make it work.