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Steinem encourages activism and empathy

Steinem encourages activism and empathy

Gloria SteinemIn her first visit to the Plains in over 40 years, author and activist Gloria Steinem enthralled a room of nearly 800 people with her talk on Tuesday, Feb. 18 in  Auburn. The ballroom at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center was packed to capacity as students, faculty, staff, administrators and members of the community flocked to hear Steinem’s lecture. Steinem was on the main campus of Auburn University as part of the Women’s Leadership Institute Extraordinary Women Lecture Series.

“Gloria Steinem was down to earth, humorous, and sincerely interested in doing everything in her power to assist us in our efforts here at Auburn,” said Dr. Barbara Baker, director of the Women’s Leadership Institute.  “It was a great pleasure to spend time with her.”

Steinem was also the guest speaker at the Women’s Studies Annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The luncheon took place in the ballroom of the Auburn University Student Center and it too, was at capacity with more than 500 attendees.

“Gloria Steinem’s visit to Auburn was nothing short of wonderful, and her words were invigorating and inspiring,” said Dr.Joyce de Vries, director of the Women’s Studies program. “ It was an honor to meet and talk with her, and to hear her speak about her commitment to attaining equality and social justice for all.”

Gloria Steinem

In a pre-lecture press conference, Steinem met with local media who asked her about receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest award any citizen can achieve) and about the need for organizations like the Women’s Leadership Institute and Women’s Studies programs.

Gloria Steinem“Women’s studies and institutes are still very necessary at universities. In fact, they are needed everywhere, not just on campuses,” Steinem said. “It ought to be mainstream, but it’s not; you still have to seek out women’s studies or Africana studies. To generalize, we still have a political idea of what curriculum can be and these incursions like women’s studies, Africana studies, and gay studies should all be called remedial studies because that what they are and one day we’ll study human history, imagine that!"

Steinem is the 2013 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and she acknowledged that it was an honor to be recognized in this way under the current administration.

“The Medal is for the whole women’s movement, of course, but it also has meaning depending on who gives it to you. What gave it meaning to me is that it came from President Obama,” Steinem said. 

For both lectures, Steinem spoke about the importance of everyday actions and how everyone, no matter their politics, race, or gender, can make a difference with empathy and action.

Steinem said, “The art of behaving effectively and ethically is behaving as if everything we do matters, because we have no idea of which thing is going to matter anyway. And besides that, the art of making change is not about ‘what should I do?’ Forget about that; it’s about saying ‘what can I do?’ and it’s about the way we treat each other – the words we use and whether or not we react to unfairness we see around us and how people are paid, or who’s called out in class.”

Eleanor Hudson, a junior majoring in political science and president of the Student Eminent Society in the College of Liberal Arts, said she was impressed with Gloria Steinem’s lecture and the overall message to connect with each other on a basic level.

“I thought Gloria Steinem's lecture was refreshing, motivating, and thought provoking,” Hudson said. “It gave me a new perspective on feminism that wasn't focused on negativity and repression but instead on the bonds of human nature and simply learning to treat each other better.” 

Past speakers of the Extraordinary Women Lecture Series includes: Dr. Maya Angelou (2013), Lilly Ledbetter (2012), and General Leslie Kinney (2011). Please visit the Women’s Leadership Institute and Women’s Studies program for more information. (Steinem meets Lilly Ledbetter in the image below) 

Gloria Steinem

Written by Vicky Santos, Director of External Affairs in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University.