Women make up the majority of the Dixie State University student population and graduate from college at higher rates than their male counterparts.
However, these women face unique challenges with higher education, safety and everyday life.
“Southern Utah can be a different experience than the rest of the state because geographically we are very isolated,” said Deborah Decker, Utah Women in Higher Education Network chapter president. “We are also still a relatively small campus, so there are just less people to interact with, which means limited choices when it comes to mentors or supporters.”
Robyn Boudreau, a science and technology adjunct, said young women in St. George are encouraged to become mothers and not have a career or finish their educational pursuits. She said this is a mistake because life is unpredictable.
“Your spouse could die, become disabled or divorce you,” Boudreau said. “I think the expectation [in southern Utah] that a woman should be the perfect beautiful homemaker is what leads to the very high rates of depression and drug abuse.”
Boudreau said talking to a female professor who is a strong role model can be beneficial to women seeking help or advice. DSU has implemented a strategic plan that includes increasing the number of female administrators to 50 percent by 2020. However, in the fall semester, only 32.23 percent of these positions were occupied by women.
“[Women in leadership] was actually less of a concern when women were graduating college at lower rates than males, but now that women are the majority when it comes to college graduates, it begs the question of why we are still seeing this disparity in leadership roles,” Decker said. “While the majority of part-time staff and non-tenure track faculty are female, they make up a very small percentage of director and above for staff or dean and above positions for faculty in higher education.”
Hannah Anderson, a junior criminal justice major from Torrance, California, has experienced harassment from someone attending DSU. She wasn’t happy with the way DSU handled her situation.
“Reports need to be taken more seriously and action needs to be taken,” Anderson said. “Thankfully, in my case, the incident did not elevate to be harmful, but in many instances it does. When action isn’t taken, then women stop reporting because what’s the point if no one wants to help?”
She said DSU did reach out to the perpetrator, but the school and Title IX coordinator did not keep in contact with her, and they weren’t easy to contact initially. She said safety needs to be higher up on the list of DSU’s priorities.
“Fortunately, St. George is a fairly safe place, but one of my transgender friends was beaten up by three strange men here,” Boudreau said.
Boudreau said she was sexually assaulted by two men in Las Vegas early on in her transition to becoming a woman. She has to be careful accepting romantic advances from men and makes it clear she is transsexual if things head in that direction. She said she is just as apprehensive as any other woman walking across deserted parking lots at night.
“I learned very fast to never go out alone at night, even in a ‘safe place,’” Boudreau said.
Boudreau said she faces the same problems as other women, like being talked down to, interrupted and being thought of as overly emotional. She said men are treated differently in places like Home Depot or with contractors.
“One thing that is unique for me is that I have been a man too, and I have observed the sexism and misogyny they try to hide from women first hand,” Boudreau said. “Women are far more complex socially and enjoy each other’s company and conversations.”
Brenna Underwood, a junior graphic design major from Highland, said she faces sexism when she visits automotive places. She said guys will usually talk slower to her about cars and ask her simple questions.
“I try to assert myself more [when facing sexism],” Underwood said.
For female students seeking support, the UWHEN offers university women a network of support around Utah. Local chapters like DSU organize campus events to help women develop leadership skills and supports women. President Biff Williams is the presidential sponsor for the UWHEN at the state level this year. She said UWHEN events are a great way to get involved and give back to campus by supporting and advocating for women’s needs. The American Association for University Women also has a St. George Chapter, and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center offers support for women in need.