Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to share the BYU stage with LDS Relief Society leader

“Women’s empowerment event” is part of homecoming at the Provo school.

A “women’s empowerment event,” to be hosted Thursday by Brigham Young University and the Big 12, will feature a range of voices — from the highest-ranking female leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models.

The odd blending of church-owned BYU, a school whose Honor Code forbids tank tops and shorts above the knee, with an S.I. product famous — and, in some quarters, infamous — for its hypersexualized depictions of women, has not gone unnoticed.

“Did Clark Gilbert approve this?” a commenter asked on a Times and Seasons blog post, referring to the church’s commissioner of education.

Liz Darger, BYU’s senior associate athletic director, acknowledged the partnership represented a “unique pairing” but emphasized that did not make it necessarily a bad one.

“Like our event theme ‘Lean Into Light TogetHER’ states,” she said Tuesday, “we are excited for the opportunity to bring women from different backgrounds, life experiences and belief systems together to uplift and encourage one another as we lean into the light that is within all of us.”

Darger added: “My experience has been that when we do come together with those of different backgrounds and experiences, we find that we have much more that unites us than divides us.”

The homecoming event is part of a series, co-sponsored by S.I. and cosmetics giant Maybelline, taking place at the four new campuses in the Big 12 and will occur Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Provo school’s Marriott Center. The free gathering is open to all female BYU students, faculty and staff.

The program will also feature more familiar BYU faces. President Camille Johnson, leader of the church’s global women’s Relief Society, for instance, will join Darger and Diljeet Taylor, the women’s cross country head coach and associate director of track and field, in a panel discussion dedicated to encouraging women to “recognize the unique light within them,” Darger said, and “seek guidance from and strength through Jesus Christ.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Camille Johnson, head of the church's global Relief Society, speaks at General Conference in April 2023. She will speak at BYU's "women's empowerment event" Thursday.

Additional speakers will be Brigitte Madrian, dean of the Marriott School of Business; Lita Little Giddins, associate vice president from the Office of Belonging; and Chanté Stutznegger, a motivational speaker and Instagram influencer focused on diversity and inclusion.

Besides speeches, the program will have activities — from bouquet making to an affirmation board, as well as a beauty bar hosted by Maybelline.

Attendees also can expect performances from the BYU Cougarettes and Miss Utah 2023 Sarah Sun, among others.

Jenn Hunter — the chief impact officer for the Big 12, the athletic conference BYU joined earlier this year — will host the panel with the S.I. swimsuit representatives. Models Mady Dewey, Jasmine Sanders and Berkleigh Wright are slated to speak on mental health.

“Our panelists are strong and dynamic young women with incredible stories, complex backgrounds, dreams, motivations and aspirations just like every other woman,” Hunter said, “and they have beautiful stories to tell.”

In conjunction with the event, Big 12 representatives and BYU student athletes and coaches unveiled a $50,000 makeover Tuesday for a new STEM center at Springville’s Cherry Creek Elementary School. The reveal is part of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard Makeover Project.