Dozens of women gathered in Rock Island at Augustana College’s Gävle Rooms of the Gerber Center for Student Life this afternoon to celebrate the Shades of Beauty Summit, sponsored by the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity and the Office of Student Life. The event celebrated beauty in all its shades and was an afternoon filled with activities that encouraged women to discover and share their inner and outer beauty.

“Shades of Beauty is an opportunity for women to come together regardless of any cultural differences that they have to celebrate one another, to let them know that they are beautiful and that they can love themself the way that they are,” said Ashley Allen, director for the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity and the founder of the event. “This is our fifth annual Shades of Beauty event. I’m super super excited because every year there’s about 200 women who come together to celebrate one another.”

The theme for this year’s event was “Brunch and Bloom” and attendees enjoyed a brunch buffet from local women-owned businesses and a Spotify playlist they helped curate before the panel presentation. Student organizations and staff helped organize activities. “It’s been a team of women who have come together to celebrate our women here at Augustana,” said Allen. “Today’s event is focused on blooming, so we have a panel of women, Augustana women leaders who will talk about blooming and talk about their journey and inspire other women as well.”  

Panelists including Dr. Sangeetha Rayapati, Dr. Lauren Hammond and Laura Kestner Ricketts shared personal stories and advice about being women in different roles and during different phases of life. Dr. Rayapati reflected on being on the Moline city council (when she’s not a voice professor at Augustana, she’s the mayor of Moline). “I am the only female on the city council at the moment, in 2023. And I am only one of two people of color, to begin with. But I don’t think of that label all that often, I have a job to do. It’s just that I know in the back of my mind, there are judgments made, not necessarily because I am a woman of color but simply because I represent something different.” But she also spoke about “blooming where you’re planted.” She told students they were in a place to grow into who they were to become. “I think these four years that you have in college is an amazing privilege, in a place to do that kind of work. So all the classes and relationships and extracurricular opportunities and this huge menu of choices that Augustana gives you for where you can plant little parts of yourself and discover what is going to grow in those interest areas and those experiences or what you might need to shed.”

“We fill this room with so many differences, but we are all similar as well,” says Allen. “I want them to leave here knowing that they can live life full bloom, that they should take advantage of every opportunity that life throws at them. Even through the challenges that they’ll have, they’ll be able to bloom above that and turn into a beautiful woman as well.”