Skip to content

The Power of My Voice

Mar 1, 2023

Women’s voices can make a profound difference in their communities, creating healthier, more inclusive, and more equitable environments for everyone. In this Women’s Week session of Reframing the Conversation, panelists shared lessons learned from navigating world advocacy, civic engagement, and policy to impact real change in Utah. They explored the unique challenges women face in the region and the importance of breaking ground and being present in policy spaces and celebrated the power of women in decision-making positions and government roles.

  • portrait of Morgan Lyon Cotti

    Morgan Lyon Cotti, PhD

    Associate Director
    Hinckley Institute of Politics
    The University of Utah


    Morgan (she/her) serves as the associate director of the Hinckley and manages the local and legislative internships. She also contributes to the Hinckley’s political analysis and research. Morgan is a former Hinckley intern and holds a PhD in Political Science from George Washington University.

    portrait of Diane Bahati

    Diane Bahati

    Legislative Intern, Utah League of Cities and Towns
    Utah System of Higher Education


    Diane Bahati (she/her) is a sophomore pursuing a degree in Political Science with a minor in Business Administration. She is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who plans to attend law school after her undergraduate degree. She is also doing a legislative internship through the Hinkley Institute with the Utah League of Cities and Towns and The Utah System of Higher Education.

    portrait of Tashina Barber

    Tashina Barber, MEd

    Program Manager
    American Indian Resource Center
    The University of Utah


    Tashina Barber is a citizen of the Diné nation belonging to the Near the Water Clan people, born for the Folded Arms people, hailing from Rock Point and Chilchinbeto, Arizona. Barber is the Program Manager in the American Indian Resource Center where she works on programs and initiatives focused on Native students. She obtained her Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy with an emphasis in Student Affairs from the University of Utah. Her work focuses on Native American students in higher education and the necessity to incorporate retention programs that encourage the cultural values of Native people.

    portrait of Mary Catherine Perry

    Mary Catherine Perry, MPA

    Director of Policy and Government Affairs
    The Policy Project


    Mary Catherine Perry (she/her) is the Director of Policy and Government Affairs at The Policy Project where she has worked on the team’s most recent efforts, the Period Project and the Teen Center Project. Mary Catherine helped draft, advocate for, and implement legislation that requires all of Utah’s public and charter schools to offer free period products to K-12 students. Mary Catherine received a B.A. in English and a Master of Public Administration from Brigham Young University where she developed a love of advocacy and sound policy. Mary Catherine began her career with the Utah Legislature at the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel where she worked analyzing policy, conducting research, and drafting legislation. Mary Catherine has spent 25 years volunteering in public schools and on nonprofit boards dedicated to helping women and children in the community. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and four children.

    portrait of Amber Stargell

    Amber Stargell, JD

    Deputy District Attroney
    Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office


    Amber Stargell (she/her) is a Deputy District Attorney for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and a graduate from the University of Utah – S.J. Quinney School of Law. She is experienced in areas of Criminal Litigation (both prosecution and defense), Civil Litigation, Civil Rights and Estate Planning. Prior to law school, Amber specialized in the fields of public relations, communications, research and writing. Her vast career expertise makes her a powerful and dynamic force – inside and outside the courtroom.

    Amber is an Ohio native and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Bowling Green State University. At 23, Amber started her career as a Public Relations Assistant at Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo. Soon after, Amber quickly progressed in the non-profit industry. She wrote press releases, media briefs, and organized fundraising events. While at Catholic Charities, Amber developed an incredible gift of writing. Her gift tremendously increased donations and interest in Catholic Charities during her employment. By 25, Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo named Amber Interim Director of Marketing and Communications. Longing to do more for her community in the legal field, Amber left Toledo to attend law school. While is law school Amber was a member of B.L.S.A. (Black Law Student Association), Mock Trial at both Texas Southern University and the University of Utah, U.C.L.I. (Utah Center of Legal Inclusion), a student member of the African American Doctoral Program, recipient of the 2019 U.M.B.A. (Utah Minority Bar Association) Academic Scholarship Award, elected 1L secretary of the Student Bar Association, intern for DAPP (Diversity Attorney Pipeline Program), and an advocate for diversity and inclusion.

    Amber is currently a member of the National Bar Association, U.C.L.I., U.M.B.A., the Alta Club, Recording Secretary for the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure Advisory Committee, Women’s Bar Association, mock trial coach for local junior high school and high school students. She is also the first ever Recording Secretary for the developing Utah African American Bar Association. She currently holds a license within the Utah State Bar, the Federal Bar and is certified to practice before the 10 th Circuit Court of Appeals. When she’s not in a courtroom or in meetings, she loves to brunch with her friends, hike, and talk on the phone with her family – especially her grandparents. Amber currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah and is a rising leader, locally and nationally.


Pamela Bishop: And I’d like to welcome you to this special edition of “Reframing the Conversation,” which is part of our Women’s Week celebration. And our theme for this today is “The Power of My Voice.”

Before we begin our discussion today, I would like to acknowledge that this land, which is named for the Ute Tribe, is the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute, and Ute Tribes. The University of Utah recognizes and respects the enduring relationship that exists between many Indigenous Peoples and their traditional homelands. We respect the sovereign relationship between tribes, states, and the federal government, and we affirm the University of Utah’s commitment to a partnership with Native Nations and Urban Indian communities through research, education, and community outreach activities.

The Reframing Conversation series is part of a regular programming here at the University of Utah offered through Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and our partnership with the Hinckley Institute of Politics. And I know he likes to stay in the back, but I just wanna acknowledge Jason and thank you for your continued partnership with us. Today’s Reframing the Conversation event will be hosted by Ann Lopez, who’s the outreach coordinator at the Hinckley Institute, and is also a public administration student, Ann.

Ann Lopez: Hi everyone. Thank you so much for being here. It is my honor to welcome you to the Hinckley Institute. The Hinckley Institute of Politics is a non-partisan institute at the University of Utah, providing an array of transformative experiences for students through internships, forums, and classes. Hinckley forums seek to foster public discourse and civil debate on the most current and pressing issues, bringing in local, national, and international thought leaders.

It is now my honor to introduce our moderator, Morgan Lyon Cotti. Morgan serves as associate director of the Hinckley and manages our local and legislative internships. She also contributes to the Hinckley’s work in political analysis and research. Morgan is a former Hinckley intern and holds a PhD in political science from George Washington University. Without further ado, Morgan.

[Audience applauds]

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you for that. You don’t have to clap (indistinct). We’re so thrilled that you’re all here today and we’re so excited about this panel. We have a lot of different perspectives, different fields, different stages of life and career, but all four of these individuals are really involved in their communities, in policy, in contributing to the fields that are very important to them.

So I’m going to do the briefest of introductions because my first question for each of these people is just to tell us a little bit about them and why they got involved in wherever it is, whether it’s policy, education, the legal field, and what Diane’s future field may be. We’ll find out. So just we’ll start with Diane. Diane Bahati is a student here at the University of Utah, studying political science and business administration, and she is currently a Hinckley intern working up at the state legislature. Tashina Barber is a citizen of the Diné Nation, belonging to the Near the Water of the, excuse me, Near the Water Clan people. And is the program manager in the American Indian Resource Center. And then next we have Amber Stargell, who is a deputy district attorney for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office and a graduate of the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney School of Law. And then closest to me we have Mary Catherine Perry, who is the director of the Policy and Government Affairs at the Policy Project where she’s worked on the team’s most recent efforts with big wins in the past legislative session. And they’re hoping for the current…

Mary Catherine Perry: Yes.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Session as well. So let’s maybe start with Diane. We’ll just come down the row and just tell us a little bit more about yourself and why you are passionate about being in this public sphere, however you define that.

Diane Bahati: Hello everyone. My name is Diane Bahati. As Morgan said, I am a sophomore here at the University of Utah. And kind of just about myself, I moved here to the United States in 2006 as a refugee. And if you know anything about Congo, you know Congo is always dealing with a lot of conflict due to exploitation. Congo is very rich in minerals and resources. We contain over 80% of the world’s cobalt. And because of that, we can be here without our phones, our TVs, our cars, and not many people know that about Congo. And Congo has suffered a lot throughout our history. And unfortunately, my family had to leave due to a volcanic eruption. But even though the war ended in 2002, the aftermath of the war still affected our country. And so my family moved here in 2006. Ever since I’ve been heavily involved.

Due to the issues that my country has faced, I have been very involved in the community because I would hate to leave a country for safety and education and then come here and have to deal with those vulnerabilities as well. As a woman, I’m like super active in these things because I care and it affects me and I’m highly involved so that I can make change and that I can be the change that other people would like to see. One of my biggest goals is to go back to my country and to just make sure no child ever has to leave their country for safety and education and so that they can stay there and get those things. I know those are big goals and without, I just like to make big goals because without big goals, we wouldn’t be here today. So yeah, that’s kind of just about who I am.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you. Tashina.

Tashina Barber: Yeah. So I’m gonna introduce myself in my native language too. We might have some of my people online.

[Tanisha introduces herself in Navajo]

Tashina Barber: I share that to ground myself in this space here and also on the homeland of our Shoshone, Ute, Paiute relatives, Goshute relatives. And I think that’s important to do as I’m talking about who I am and why I’m doing the work that I do because of tribal sovereignty and honoring our relatives here as we’re talking about policy and the work as leaders. I didn’t start off wanting to do this kind of work. I grew up on the Navajo reservation where I was heavily engaged and immersed in my Navajo culture. It was the norm for me to speak my language, to do things of my cultural heritage. And I had my peers also doing the same thing. So it was very different for me to come, so I’m from Arizona, born and raised, and I went to a boarding school in New Mexico. And in this boarding school I experienced what they call bordertown racism. But it was also my way of finding who I was and being able to become a person and an advocate and experience in some of these situations of why it was important for me to take a step up in education.

I’m also a mother. I have two sons. They came here and we moved here to Utah about 11 years ago, when they were about three and four. And it was important for me to continue this work because I want to ensure that there is established systems here to support them and their identities and to really help foster them as they’re growing up to be leaders as well. So those are just a little bit of those things that really helped me to think about who I was, how I become a leader. Some of the things in the past few women’s week sessions that I’ve heard from some of my Indigenous sisters and aunties and relatives was just that importance of ceremony and how a lot of our leadership has been developed through some of our cultural and traditional practices. And I wanna continue to do that and share that in these spaces. And that is kind of how I’ve gone into this role is really, again, kind of like Diane had said, it was about being that change and being here for others as we’re moving forward. So I see that in doing that for my community.

Amber Stargell: So yes, my name is Amber Stargell. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio. And I’m a very long way from home. I came here as a law student or at the S.J. Quinney School of Law here at the University of Utah. And coming here is actually not really in the cards. I really did not see it happening, but it was something that did, and I’m glad every single day that it did. I am the first attorney ever in my family. And it’s important that I say that because I remember when I got my acceptance letter to law school, my grandmother said to me that my great-grandmother Siola, she had a vision for her family and she wanted one doctor, one nurse, and one lawyer. My aunt was a nurse, she became a doctor. And so my grandmother said, “now we finally have our attorney in the family.”So that was the biggest honor that I could ever have, especially when you’re talking about a family. When I sit down with my grandmothers and my grandfathers, their grandparents were first generation or born into slavery. So to see that promise to their family come to light is one of the biggest badges that I wear every single day. And it’s the biggest honor that I could ever have for my family to sit on panels and to share that experience because I’m sure to them either, even to this day, they say they never saw Utah in the cards for our family either, so here I am.

It’s important because for me, even being a first generation attorney, I’ve never seen other African American female attorneys in my community. And a lot of the attorneys that we saw usually were painted in a very bad light sometimes. They would always come around when something bad happened. And also even the idea of prosecutors and in the state and policing in the state was always in this negative light. And so when I started the journey of deciding whether or not I wanted to go to law school, it was actually after I had already graduated from undergraduate and I was working as a public relations specialist for Catholic Charities in Ohio. And there was a group of film directors who produced a film called, I can’t remember actually the title, but they were on tour promoting this film, and it was about the life of exonerees. And one of the panelists, he was speaking at a law school, a group of law school students similar to this group. And he asked them, he said, “Who in the courtroom do you think was in the best position to make sure that our cases that we were exonerated? Who was in the best position to dismiss those cases and look at the facts and examine it and put forth the best arguments to make sure that we never ended up on death row?”

And so everyone’s hands went up and a lot of people’s said defense attorneys or the judge, you know, the police officers. And he, at the end of all their questions said, “The prosecutor. The prosecutor had the most power in that room to stand up and look at the facts and say these men did not do it and they didn’t.” And so he urged everyone in that room if they had the opportunity to consider being a prosecutor, because in that position you can make the most difference. And I never really thought about it like that until then. And after that, I went off, I read Brian Stevenson’s book “Just Mercy,” and watched other movies including “The Central Park Five.” And when I got to law school, it wasn’t initially what I wanted to do. I went into civil litigation, which means I represented mostly insurance companies for a little bit. I did do the criminal clinic when I was in law school, which I highly suggest if anyone wants to or is planning to go to law school because you learn a lot of skills as far as evidence and presentations and those type of things. But I still wasn’t too sure, I thought I was gonna be the civil litigator.

And after a year of doing that, I was like, I don’t think I feel fulfilled. Thought I was gonna go back to Ohio. And I get a call from one of Sam Gill’s chiefs, Will Carson, and he said, “Sim Gill wants to interview you.” And I came in, I was like, “Sure, why not? I might as well.” I was planning to go back to Ohio anyways, and I go in and had one of the best conversations and one of the best interviews with Sim Gill that I’ve ever had in any job interview actually. And we never really even talked tremendously about the job. A lot of what we talked about was how can we help change the system that we are trying to represent? And it turned into this hour, almost hour and a half long conversation where I ran over my interview time. But in that I realized that’s the place where I needed to be. All things coming together, I realized that the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office is where I was meant to be and since then, I’ve been there ever since.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you.

Mary Catherine Perry: That’s great.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Mary Catherine.

Mary Catherine Perry: I’m Mary Catherine Perry. It truly is an honor to be here and be at the University of Utah. I will tell you, I was born and raised in California by two parents who were originally from Utah. So we went back and forth a lot. I was living in the Bay Area, but I always felt like we were Utah’s living in California, but I’ve been living here now for 25, 30 years and I love Utah. I love it here. It is so great. And I’m so thrilled to be here. I began, well, actually when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship in Washington DC. And I saw how amazing it was to be in the middle of changes that impacted people’s lives. But I also saw how slow and heavy those changes actually happened. I came back to school, I did an MPA degree, and then I got my first job working for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel here for the state legislature. And then I saw firsthand how relatively more quickly change and policy could happen. And I would sit and staff those committee hearings and I would watch individuals like all of us come in and testify for a bill, against a bill, and see the power of one voice. It was incredible to me. And I saw myself and I would sit and I worked there for several years and I would see how influential that would be. And I could actually see myself, I would be like, “I know now. I can see myself on the other side of that table testifying about something I believe in.” I didn’t know what it was gonna be. I said, “But I could see myself doing that.” Because the access was so, relative to Washington DC, pretty easy. And so I kind of had that in my mind.

I worked there for several years. I had two children while I was working there. And then I put a pause on my professional life and then I kind of just dived into public education in any volunteering role I could. So I was in PTA. I was on the school community councils. I was in the classroom doing those things just because my kids were there. But also not realizing I was learning a lot about the public education system, one of our largest governmental systems in the state. And so then in the last three years or so, I kind of got back involved because of my background in public education and with the legislature, got back involved with policy advocacy. A friend of mine, Emily Bell McCormick, had started The Policy Project, but it was just kind of a one woman operation at that point. She’s like, “How do you know so much about the legislature?” I said, “Well, I used to work there.” So we gathered together, we had two other women, and we created a nonprofit and now we’re incorporated as a small 501C3 called The Policy Project. And so in the past year and we’ve been up here at the Hinckley Institute talking about it too, as part of the Utah Period Project. And now the Teen Center Project. So our goal is to help remove barriers to opportunity, to education, to any kind of access that people need. And so we’ve been using our strengths in those areas through community advocacy, through grassroots efforts, through knowledge, and relationships, and the legislature to help bring about change, to remove barriers for people who need that.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you so much. It’s so fun to hear about all of your experiences and your stories. The title of this forum is “Reframing The Conversation: The Power of My Voice.” And one of the things we wanna talk about is some of the challenges women have of breaking into some of these spaces, but we also wanna hear about the power that we can have as well. So Mary Catherine, maybe let’s start with you. Can you talk about maybe some of those, some of the barriers or some of the challenges, but how being a woman and providing that voice has also been an asset in your career?

Mary Catherine Perry: Well, I think that’s a great question. One of the things that I noticed too when I spent years on the Hill is there isn’t too many organizations like the one I belong to, where you have, you know, four women who are up there lobbying, advocating, and really very laser-like focused on policy. And so it’s a challenge as women trying to get into that space, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. As we’re kind of, a lot of times we have these very broad efforts where we’re working, we’ve chosen to be very singularly focused on that. I do think that there are, you know, education and kind of learning the process and not understanding it can be a barrier because you, like, you look at the legislature and sometimes it’s really easy to feel like my voice doesn’t matter. I’m, you know, I’m just one person.

But gathering together, finding like-minded people who agree and kind of believe in the things that you do and presenting and using it as an opportunity. If you look at our legislature, it’s majority male. It’s majority White. It’s a majority of a lot of things. But if you use it as an opportunity to help educate and teach them and create some awareness for something that they might have not thought about before, and use that as a way to, you know, cross over and reach a mutual understanding about some of the face, the things that women are facing. You know, when you talk about policy, you truly have to imagine a life that’s not your own. You have to think about an experience that is not yours. And that’s really hard to do because you don’t know what you don’t know. And so we do have a responsibility as women to use our voices and to help share our experience with others who have power. And hopefully in the work that we’re doing, we’re also creating people who have the power themselves to go up and make that change.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: And Amber, if I had read your bio, you have like two paragraphs of awards and organizations you are a part of. So you have this incredible experience and resume of just breaking through and working with important groups. But how, maybe just talk a little bit about that of how you are recognizing you’re part of important communities, working through them, and how that might affect being on, role of the prosecutor’s side.

Amber Stargell: Okay, so for me, I think when I first moved to Utah, it felt like everything was a barrier to me. And I always tell people this point, when I first stepped foot in the doors of the S.J. Quinney School of Law, I was the only African American student in the entire school in 2018. And I don’t say that to put down the school at all. That’s not, I enjoyed my experience there, but that alone is a barrier and it’s very difficult to kind of navigate. And one of the reasons why is because when you enter in that space, there’s a lack of a shared experience. And I talked at length with Sim Gill about this recently as well. It’s just that when we bring that shared experience, I can’t speak for everyone in my community. It’s impossible for me to do that. I can only give a perspective. And so when you bring more people into that space, you allow for them to connect with each other in a way that is relatable.

And for me, coming to Utah, it was just important for me to first find those people who can, who I can have those shared experiences with, whether it was through, you know, a particular TV show or food or whatever activities I like to do. But also bringing back to the awareness that we need to bring back more attention to the fact that we need more women, we need more people of color to actually be advocates in this community. Because there are a lot of us who are, who aren’t attorneys. And there are a lot of us who find ourselves in a different position in the justice system. And so are we really representing that correctly if we’re not having the right people, if we’re not having enough of us in these spaces to have those discussions? So I started reaching out to attorneys in the community, attorneys of color, women attorneys, just anyone is like, “Hey, I really wanna do this particular project.” Or “I’m interested in doing this.” One of the projects that I’m working on now is with Judge Shauna Grace Robertson, and it’s to establish the first African American Bar Association in the state of Utah that has never existed before. And it’s a huge project of ours. And we’re in the final process of finalizing our 501C3 paperwork and making that a reality for future attorneys of color who come into this state because it is very important.

And so, as you explained, you know, being able to, or being someone that just is, I guess I don’t always see myself breaking down those barriers, but you have to be very determined and vigilant and sometimes you just can’t let other people distract you or get in your way of that because these barriers can be very difficult. And so yeah, I think that just finding one goal or finding a couple and being focused and determined on it, and like, Dally?

Diane Bahati: Diane.

Amber Stargell: Diane had explained. You know, I think, as we talked about before, what you’re doing is beautiful in the sense of you having this purpose and this focus of knowing what you wanna do. And you have to dream big. Because if you don’t dream big, then how else do you put together the picture? So with that that’s what my response would be.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you. Tashina you looked like you had something in mind to say.

Tashina Barber: Oh no, I agree completely with all of our panelists who have been sharing about the importance of being in these spaces. I know for myself, some of the challenges that I’ve seen within our communities is we’re doing a lot of the work and it’s not something new. I think historically a lot of our people, and women in particular, have been taking the lead on bringing up issues and policies to different spaces. In particular with me working in higher education, a lot of the work that I do is around policies with our Indigenous students here. A lot of what you talked about Amber, in relation to that with belonging, right, finding your people and finding that group that’s gonna help and support you, are some of the things that my team works on. And we’re going from a team of one to a team of three and being responsible for that is a huge job. And we continue to work with different partners as we’re talking about how we connect with others and kind of taking up some space, right?

I know that a lot of our relatives and our leaders, a lot of them are women. And within some of our cultures we have some patriarchal communities, but a huge amount of our Indigenous communities are matriarchal. And I see a lot of my aunties, I like to make relations in kin with all of the people that I work with. So my aunties, my sisters, and even the young people making changes. I recall some youth over in the Davis School District who were taking the lead on challenging the name of the Bountiful Braves and really stepping up and creating that voice and standing up for their people and being back by these aunties and these sisters and their community. Those are things that are happening. There’s definitely challenges as far as making those changes. I think that’s still a work in progress.

But something that has been talked about in the past couple of years, something that I’m also really passionate about is just our policies within higher education, right. Some of the things that we have worked really hard for within these spaces is our ability to practice who we are. Some things that we do, like smudging, how are we allowed to challenge policy that’s gonna allow us to burn with inside buildings, right, with purpose and so forth. So these are things that we are working on to ensure that we are providing this type of safe space for our Indigenous students. So within our center we provide that ability for them to do such things. We also are working on, we just had our inaugural elder and residents who was working with us as well to provide some of that spiritual, cultural connectedness for our students. And these are things that I think in the past with policy that has really created a sense of unbelonging, right? And how are we challenging some of those narratives and some of those barriers that are really gonna help our students thrive here on this campus and any campus.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: I appreciate that. Thank you. Well, and I love that you brought up that example of those high school students really leading the charge and they won. Their mascot as now a bird. It’s the Red Hawk. And then Diane, as we’ve pointed out is a college student, but is already diving in. And so Diane, I’d actually love to hear that because you hear the anecdote, but it’s backed up by data, and I’d love to get the perspective of the other women as well, that women aren’t willing to run for office or dive into advocacy or some of these other things until they feel like they’re overqualified. Which I think can pull a lot of women back. And whether that means degrees or age or experience. So I’d love, ’cause we have different life stages, different career stages, but all of you are so involved. So Diane, I’d just love to hear a little bit more about your experience as a college student, just being so passionate, knowing you want to get involved and what you hope your path is.

Diane Bahati: Yeah, so I’ve been heavily involved in the community since high school. I don’t know if you guys remember the Juneteenth, the first Juneteenth event that happened in Salt Lake. I was actually one of the organizers and it was super amazing. I was able to lead three peaceful protests up here to the President’s Circle, one at the Capitol, and one at Washington Square Park. And I’ve always cared about being involved in the community. I’ve been super strong with how I speak to people, just about becoming involved and just about caring. Just caring and being an ally. And coming into college, I had all this experience with volunteering and I experienced a little bit of a shock. Like, I thought I was gonna come here. I was like, I was gonna be, you know, I’ve done all this stuff and I’ve done all these things, but then I meet other people who’ve done 10 times more. And I was like, “Oh.” Humbled me a little bit. But at the same time, I also need to realize how far I have come and I do this thing where I have achieved something and then I’m like, “Oh, this is not enough ’cause somebody else has done this.” And it’s almost discouraged me. And I still have an issue with it now, but I’m working through it and I’m now recognizing it and I’m calling myself out on it.

I think a lot of people like look at me and be like, “Wow, you’re doing amazing things.” And in my head it’s like, “I need to do more.” And it’s just being, growing up as a woman of color, I feel like that kind of never ends because you just always feel like there’s more that you have to do. You have to continue to fight for your people. You have to be the one representing your people. And if you’re not doing it, you’re not doing enough. If you don’t continue to do it, you’re not doing enough. Which is why I feel like I’ve been so motivated to do a lot for my community because I’m always kind of like telling myself, do more, do more, do more. And I am aware that like I do need a break sometimes and I do need to like step back and just realize how much things that I’ve done. But growing up as a woman of color, I always felt like my voice was being shut down. So I always felt like I needed to be more louder. I needed to come out more and I needed to be more involved and try to apply for as many things as I can. And Morgan has seen me in so many interviews. It’s so funny because whenever I apply for a Hinckley position, she’s like, “I already know what you’re gonna say.” So, and it’s really funny.

But I always try my best to apply for everything that I can and try to be involved and try to see how I can make change in any way that I can. I’m always growing. One thing that I learned being an activist is you’re always learning. And a lot of people will come up to you for answers that you completely don’t know. And it’s okay to continue to learn and it’s okay to continue to do the things that you can. And I feel like also being open-minded, listening to what people have to say, getting feedback. I think those are one of the biggest things that has helped me is listening to what other people have to say and seeing how I fit into those spaces. But being a college student and being so involved has actually helped me a lot in my life and it’s helped me figure out what exactly I want to do. Before I thought I wanted to be a traditional lawyer. I wanted to go to law school and I wanted to defend people in court. But then I did my first Hinckley internship with the Utah League of Women Voters and I was all like, “Oh, I think I like legislature more.” And so I still plan to go to law school and obtain my law degree, but I think I really wanna make change within legislature ’cause that’s where it happens directly. And I am involved and surrounded by amazing people and it’s just opened my eyes a lot, especially being a refugee at the University of Utah, yeah.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: And Amber, one of the things that I noticed about your bio was that whatever stage or whatever city or state you lived in, it seems like you were diving in and finding ways to get involved. So maybe talk about that as well, just stage of life, but also being new to an area, but still willing to find ways to be involved.

Amber Stargell: I don’t know. I don’t, it’s-

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Or is it so innate you don’t even think about it?

Amber Stargell: I feel like I have this thing where I’m like kind of a rebel and I think my mom would agree with that, where I’m just gonna do what I wanna do anyway. Like she will tell you I’ve been like that since I was a kid. But I always had this, I always had this desire to wanna go other places and go beyond what I was seeing in Cleveland, Ohio. And when I finally got the opportunity to travel abroad to France and then come back home to Ohio, apply to law school, go to school, I spent my first year law school at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. So in Houston and then coming to Salt Lake City, I think the first thing for me is that my first goal is to set up my goals. And then also the goal after that is to just enjoy myself, find peace and be happy. So I looked through whether it’s at school or my job, what’s gonna bring me peace and what’s gonna make me happy. And also not conflicting what my own morals and ethics are. So anything that aligns with my own personal values, I’m like, “Oh, I wanna do that. I wanna be involved with that.”

People who I see that are doing things or being the people of integrity and the people of moral statute that I wanna be like, I’m like, “I wanna be like that person” And so I’ll, you know, “Hey, what groups are you involved in,” or get involved in their group. I’ve been so blessed to have mentors who have come to me and just say, “Hey, there’s this event going on, you need to come. There’s this award happening, you need to apply. We’re putting this together, you need to be on this board.” And so one, making and establishing those connections. So one, establishing who you are. Two, making and establishing the right connections, not just any connections. Just because someone has something that you think is pretty and shiny doesn’t mean that it’s gold. So make sure that you align with those people and make sure those people are putting you in the right places in the right times. Because sometimes those people and those opportunities will give you a platform that you will never imagine. And I would’ve never imagined, like I said, Utah wasn’t in the cards for me, but someone sent me a link to apply for internship here in Utah and said, “You need to apply for this.” And I did and I took that chance and I said, “Yes, okay.” And so I did it because I trusted that person. And then this whole opportunity and me being here today is because that person saw something in me and knew that, “Hey, this is something you need to do.”

And so just really trusting myself, trusting the people around me. And then also just saying yes to the opportunities that align with that. And it’s important because once you do, I realize that in each community there’s children who watch you too. And those children actually probably mean more to me, than anyone else in the community because I realize that after I’m done doing what I’m doing, they’re gonna take up the torch and they’re gonna continue too. And so it never really hit me how important it was when, how important I was in this community until last year after I had a talk and I was at a Juneteenth fair actually and these younger girls, they were in like third or fourth grade, ran up to me and they said, “You’re the attorney. You’re the attorney and I wanna be like you and Michelle Obama.” And I don’t ever compare myself to Michelle Obama. I don’t think that. I mean shout out to Michelle Obama. But in those girls’ minds, Michelle Obama was a reality to them because they’ve never met her, but there’s someone in their community that reminds them of her. And that’s why it’s important and that’s why representation is always important as well, to be involved and always make sure that you’re being heard in some capacity.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: And Tashina, you are just, Amber talking about how the children are watching her. I mean the children here at the University of Utah are the adults that are students, but they are watching the leaders and you’re in this leadership role. So how do you take some of those experiences as a woman, as a leader, as an educator, to work with these students and help inspire them?

Tashina Barber: Yeah. So I feel like I work with all different levels of learners. So children who are just recently born, I heard a panelist yesterday say, who also identifies as Diné. And she had shared that in our language [Tashina says “children” in Navajo] is children. And in translation it means to smell. So they’re the little smellers and they are the ones who are looking out there and are finding out, is this person trustworthy? Like how are they carrying themselves? And I felt like, I thought that was really powerful in hearing that because what we do is going to be these children are watching. Whether they’re students here in this space too, right. Your takeaways from these sessions I think are really important. Whatever age that that might be are or even our elders. I know that when we talk about our mentors, femmetors, and just people that we are learning from, it’s reciprocal from all different ages. I know I learn from young children to my elders to my peers. And those are things that are really important as we are engaging in this work of policy. Like how does this impact those that are, have come before us? Who are coming after us?

And I think that some of the things that were shared by like Diane and Amber and Mary Catherine are a lot of things that I really hold true to as well in regards to that kind of advocacy work that we are doing for our communities. And the spaces that we take up. So I don’t do a whole lot of things in the legislature, but it reminds me of the importance of also being in those spaces and sharing these stories. We come from communities of storytelling. If we don’t have representation in those spaces, people will not know the experiences that we are experiencing policies that are being in place if we don’t show up. So those are my takeaways from some of the things that have been shared here, but also like the importance of really just like how are we carrying ourselves within these leadership roles? And that’s something that’s important to me as I’m navigating this and speaking here on this panel as well.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: I love that. When you said to smell, I thought of like adults smelling the newborn’s head.

[Panelists laugh.]

Morgan Lyon Cotti: But I love that better that they’re sniffing out and looking around. I love that. So one, I’m gonna ask Mary Catherine one final question and then we want to open it up to the questions that you may all have. But Mary Catherine, you’re a great example to me of someone who’s been involved in lots of different stages of your life. So I actually met Mary Catherine 20 years ago when I was an intern at legislative research and she just had those two little ones before you left paid professional work and then engaged in a ton of community service and being involved in your community in lots of ways. And now you’re back to the advocacy in different ways and professional work. So maybe just as we’re brewing the questions in our minds, just talk a little bit about that of ’cause sometimes people think like, “I’m too old.” Or “Now I’m too old.” Or “I’m too young or I’m too old.” How you found a path no matter what stage you were in?

Mary Catherine Perry: Okay. Well, thankfully how a bill becomes a law has not changed in I don’t know how many decades. It’s just kind of that process.

Amber Stargell: Since the “Schoolhouse Rock” era.

Mary Catherine Perry: That’s right. It doesn’t change. That has helped me. But I think, you know, just like you said, staying engaged with wherever you are. I did community service where I was helping women and children through the junior league of Salt Lake City. I was new to Salt Lake City as a young married person and I just jumped into whatever organization I thought aligned with what I valued. I started in there and those relationships, I just can’t overstate how important the relationships are that you develop through your lifetime. Those are the ones that help build trust that you can use to influence the kind of good that you want to see in the world. You know, I got my first job because I had a good relationship with one of my professors who was then able to recommend me for that. That was so important. I maintained relationships ’cause my husband had professional relationships and I showed up to those events and kept up those relationships.

You know, every opportunity where there were people that I could engage with and talk to about. And so we would be in, you know, settings where, you know, my husband would talk about one thing and then I’d start talking about periods and make ’em super uncomfortable. But I sat there and I said, “Okay, we’re gonna talk about elementary school kids needing period products in their restrooms.” You know, so I was using those relationships the best I could, whether I was, you know, a volunteer or now I’m part-time in a paid profession that I wasn’t actually looking for. But because I jumped into opportunities to do good and just to do things where I had the time and capacity to do those, it actually opened up opportunities that kind of emerged and showed themselves. I feel really lucky that way, but I also worked really hard through my whole life to try and create the background and the skills and the knowledge to help open those doors at some point later in life.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Perfect. Thank you so much. If you have a question, please raise your hand. Nick is over here and please tell us your name and what you’re studying and then your question.

Hannah: Hi, my name is Hannah. I’m studying political science. First of all, I just wanted to thank you guys all for taking the time and sharing your stories and experiences. My question is specifically off something that Diane said about feeling responsible to do your advocacy work. And I know that in advocacy work that can be really exhausting and really tolling on yourself, you know, feeling like it’s your responsibility to do all these things and to achieve all these goals. So I wanted to ask everyone, how do you take care of yourself in this process of advocacy. And how do you prioritize yourself as well as your goals and your initiatives? Because it’s exhausting and it’s not an easy task and it can feel like it’s your responsibility. It can feel like it’s, you know, all on you. So I just wanna ask how you guys find that balance between advocacy and yourself.

Diane Bahati: So I guess I’ll go first. For me, it was really hard in a generation of growing up on our phones and being on social media, it’s super hard to kind of just be away from it. And when you’re so involved in policy and politics, it feels like when you turn off your phone it’s like, “Oh, I need to know what’s going on so when I go to work, like, I know what they’re talking about or I need to know what’s going on.” So when somebody presents this issue to me, I have an opinion and I know what to say and that’s how I was. That’s how it was during 2020 when everything was so crazy during the pandemic, after George Floyd’s murder. And it just felt like everybody was looking at me for answers and sometimes I really didn’t know. I’m like, “I’m young, like I’m an activist but I’m in high school. Like, I don’t know.” And it was getting a little draining. I was actually getting a little bit irritated that people just always assumed that I always just knew. And I started to become okay with it. I started to become okay with it, but I also started to give myself a little break. And by break, I mean, just not looking for trending topics that like matter all the time. And as a person who’s an activist, that’s like, that’s hard for me to say to just shine a blind eye, but it’s for my mental health and it’s for myself.

Especially during Black History Month, when we post things about Black History Month, we talk about all these bad things that have happened to Black people and then we don’t really talk about our successes and things that are actually good. And then we see this next movie coming out where they talk about Black people and Black experiences, but then it’s super sad. And then it’s like when can we have like a Black success story and everything is actually successful. And so I think looking at the bright side without sugarcoating everything, heavy on sugarcoating. Because a lot of the time when we say look at the bright side, we’re actually like, sometimes we can accidentally not mention the issues that actually matter ’cause that’s important as well. But also looking at the bright side and whenever we talk about something that’s sad or something that has happened or women being discriminated against, also presenting a brighter side or a potential solution for it as well. And I’ve been trying to be big on that. Whenever I talk about an issue, I also try to present a possible solution just so that it’s not always bringing me down or feeling like I’m sad all the time, but yeah.

Tashina Barber: I think I ask for help a lot.

[Panel laughs]

Tashina Barber: I can always depend on whether it’s family, friends, my network of supporters. I have children, so my biggest thing as far as like, what can bother me when I’m doing advocacy work is the time I spend away from them. So I actually include them. We do volunteer work together. We engage in different things in the community together as that also act of activism. It might be something like we’re in a book club reading an Indigenous author’s work. And to me I can define that as activism and still feel like I’m doing something because I’m helping some youth, my children, because I see them as being also those change makers. But another big thing too, within our culture, we really wanna destigmatize mental health and seeking out mental health help. So I have someone that I talk to when I need to and that I can unpack all of my thoughts judgment free. And I think that’s really important is to either have a therapist or you know, your family or someone who is going to listen to you without judgment as, you know, we’re doing this work that can be very heavy and can make you feel exhausted, sometimes defeated. But we’re always reminded that we have a team, we have a group here, we have allies, and how can we tap into that to really support one another and ourselves. So yeah, thank you for that question.

Amber Stargell: Well, after I’m done crying, I like to, no, I’m kidding.

[Panel laughs]

Amber Stargell: I mean, I’m only three years out of law school and to be honest, I wish I had like some clear answer. I feel like sometimes there are days where I’m like, “I have this clear go-to, so what I’m gonna do when I feel stressed out.” But to be completely honest and transparent, it’s just that life isn’t always like that. And so for me, I mean, one of my biggest responsibilities as I said early on is my family. So sometimes my family isn’t always the best go-to for me because I have to be the responsible one. I can’t be the one that looks like I don’t have it together because I’m the one that has to have this heavy load of like the responsibility of my family or, you know, sometimes I just like to call my grandmother and my aunt and gossip about real housewives. That can be a release. I have friends in different areas of my life where we can do different things, where we can go do outdoor stuff, or we can just talk about things that aren’t related to what we do. And then also just having, as I mentioned earlier, people even in your profession who you’re like, “I wanna be like them.” And you can go to them when you have those periods and say, “Hey, what would you do if you were in this situation?” Just having as many options open to you as possible because like I said, the reality is those times happen and sometimes I’m not always clear as to what I want or what I need out out of that situation to release, but I have a lot of options and I’m very thankful for that. But just always make sure you have those options open to you.

Mary Catherine Perry: And I feel really lucky to work with a small group of women who are very positive and very supportive and the work is super hard. I also have four kids. I’ve got a family and a dog and like a lot of other things. So it’s really hard to turn off in my life. I’m working, like, I get paid part-time, it’s in my brain full-time plus. And so it is so hard to step away from all of the things that are you’re thinking about and needing to know about and staying up on all of those things. I think most of us do that to some extent whether it’s in the private sector, the public sector, or volunteer work, but truly family, friends, and maintaining those networks, I think, once you’re working in a professional capacity, it’s really easy to kind of let the friends go. You’re like, “Well, I talk to people all day long, I don’t wanna talk to anymore people.” But maintaining those relationships, even though it is also partly work, truly does bring you so much more joy in life. I always make time for exercise, whether I have to get up at five in the morning or whatever. I try to keep physical, mental, those things that feel like work I know will pay off for me in the end. And just so taking that time to work on myself in those moments. But then sometimes it’s Netflix and a diet Coke and I just, I can tell like I’m starting to buffer because I’m like trying to curl up and like tune out everything. So it’s a range of things.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: We probably have one time for one more quick audience question.

Iradukunda Esperance: Okay, hello. My name is Iradukunda Esperance. And I’m double majoring in political science and gender studies. So my question is related to the classroom, right. And sometimes in the classroom I feel like I have a powerful voice, but it makes my teachers and my classmates uncomfortable, especially as a Black woman, right. So I don’t know because I’ll call out things that relate to me and those around me. So when I hear inappropriate comments towards my classmates or towards, like, myself that are not necessarily intended or not being done on purpose, like, how do we get those like, around us to be, to like, allow them to know like, it’s okay to be uncomfortable when you’re called out. It’s okay. And to like create classrooms where like, it’s okay to be the only person of color in the classroom. It’s okay to be like, the only person a part of the LGBTQ community because you’re accepted and you’re loved. You know, how can we get like those around us to be okay with being uncomfortable, like? And having the power to be allowed to be a woman in the classroom.

Amber Stargell: My first response is if someone’s doing something wrong or inappropriate in the first place, who cares if they’re comfortable or not when you call them out? For me, there’s been a lot of times where whether it was when I was in law school or like even in my profession now, if you’re doing something that is inherently wrong, like everyone and it’s just not okay and I call you out for it, your comfortability doesn’t matter to me because I’m uncomfortable at this point. And so we can rationalize that and get to a place like, you don’t have to be confrontational. You don’t have to be upset. You don’t have to, you know, you can have a conversation. You can engage with that person. But my response to people who feel like they’re in that situation is don’t be afraid to step up and say something because you think someone’s gonna be uncomfortable because you said something. Just know how to approach it and just, you know, know that you can approach someone as a person and say, “Hey, what you did was not okay.” Or “What you said is that okay. And here are the reasons why.” Or “Here, it is not okay because,” and open up that conversation and allow for them to have their opportunity to explain it as well. But yeah, that would be my response.

Iradukunda Esperance: Because I feel like a lot of people like, tend to reverse it on you when you call out somebody for doing something incorrect. Then they make you uncomfortable. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, now they’re making me feel bad for calling them out on the issue, but I’m not the problem.” Like, they’re the ones in the wrong. Then you feel like you have to become apologetic. Like, “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry that I just did that.” And then now I’m uncomfortable because I’m like, I didn’t do nothing wrong, but you’re uncomfortable. Now, you’re trying to make me uncomfortable. So I feel like that happens a lot. But I have a lot of people that come up to me and they’re like, “Ira, help.” And I’m like, “Help, I don’t know, you know? I dont know.”

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Yeah. Thanks, Iradukunda. I love that ’cause it’s very in line with the topic “reframing the conversation.” So maybe with just our last couple minutes talk about reframing the conversation, especially in terms of being a woman, being part of a minority group.

Diane Bahati: And to answer that, my favorite thing is making people uncomfortable. ‘Cause it’s like, I’ve been uncomfortable my whole life. And when I finally see, like, it’s just really interesting when I finally see other people also feeling that as well. It makes me like, “Okay, so you know how it feels and you said this one thing, so now it’s a mutual thing and I want you to like really deeply understand that it’s, I also feel it too. And the way you feel, I felt it before.” And another thing as well, like, I’m in a lot of spaces where people think very different from me. And it’s okay to think differently. That’s what this thing is, for us to promote diversity representation. And I think we should also learn to give people the space. It just also depends on intention as well. And you kind of like touched onto it. I think we should give people the space to learn and grow. We live in a society where cancel culture is like, “Oh, this person said this, let’s like,” but then we didn’t give ’em a space to learn and grow and now they’ll never know because we didn’t give ’em that space. I think if we’ve given somebody enough space to learn and grow, Google is free. We’re at a university where we have education and you’ve been given a space to learn how to be more inclusive, how to speak to people. You’ve been given that space and you still continue to choose ignorance. I think that’s when it becomes a problem. And I think that’s when that person is unwilling to grow. But also, I’ve learned that I need to give people the space to learn and grow and to talk to them, give them resources, teach ’em how, well, not teach ’em, but show them how they can be allies. But if you’ve already done done those things and if those things have already been presented to them, and they continue to make people uncomfortable in spaces such as this or in classrooms, I think that’s when they’re choosing ignorance. And ignorance was a choice at in that moment, yeah.

Amber Stargell: And ignorance is not bliss by the way.

[Panelists laugh]

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Tanisha, Mary Catherine, did you have any closing thoughts?

Tashina Barber: I completely agree with everything you said, Diane. I think that this is a challenge that a lot of our BIPOC students experience being that our center also provides services to students who are experiencing situations like this in their classroom, right. And I think, Diane, you really encapsulated everything that we would do with our students as far as like being able to listen, well, was this question or this challenge coming from a place of, you know, the intent to learn or was it coming from a place of ignorance or if it continues to happen. Like, I think thinking that, you know, in this Women’s Week of the policy theme, like thinking deeper down in education through K through 12, what are we teaching our students? How are we engaging curriculum that is culturally relevant or at least exposing our children to that so that they see that other people as human, right. It’s the humanity that we need to see in one another and really how are we having those conversations? Because it’s not bad to have a challenging conversation when it is the intent to grow and really come together. So I really appreciated that. Thank you.

Mary Catherine Perry: And I do too. And the work we’ve done and trying to get a breadth of experience throughout the entire state. The one thing as a team we keep saying is to be curious and not judgmental. You know, asking questions all the time, trying to learn and understand people and sometimes asking questions is the most disarming thing of all. Instead of, you know, whatever the conversation could like look like, asking more questions is always an opportunity for both people to learn.

Morgan Lyon Cotti: Thank you so much to our wonderful panel and I’ll ask Pamela to give us a few closing remarks.

Pamela Bishop: Thank you. Can we just give everyone a hand on this panel?

[Audience applauds]

Pamela Bishop: Just awesome. Just an awesome job. And I think the key takeaway is like, there’s growth in being uncomfortable. So whether you’re uncomfortable to use your voice, whether you’re uncomfortable because someone has told you that you’ve done something wrong, whatever, there’s growth in being uncomfortable. So I think that’s even something I think that we can all take away and learn. And I wanna thank you all, those who joined us here in person and those who are on our livestream for this “Reframing the Conversation: The Power of my Voice.” And I want to thank our moderator and again, our partners here at the Hinckley.

I want to invite everyone to join us for other Women’s Week events. We’re just kind of in the middle. This is hump day. We’ve got several more events to go. Tomorrow we have our keynote speaker, Feminista Jones. At lunchtime, we’re actually serving food and we also have several events, a mixer tomorrow night. So just please feel free to join us and to find out more about all of these activities, please visit our website, for all the info for Women’s Week. Thanks so much and enjoy the rest of your day.