April 3, 2017Vol. 47, Issue 5

A Reflection on Gloria Steinem's Campus Visit

President Hutchinson (right) got the chance to talk one-on-one with Gloria Steinem (left) during Steinem's visit to Chico State, leaving her more inspired then ever in the fight for social justice and civil rights. (Jason Halley/University Photographer)

I hope you were as excited as I was last fall to learn that this year’s Book in Common would be My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem.

I literally jumped for joy when I learned that, in addition to reading her book, I would have a chance to listen to Steinem speak on campus March 1. What a wonderful event with which to culminate our community Book in Common celebration and what a thoughtful way to launch national Women’s History Month. A renowned feminist, community organizer, civil rights activist, journalist, and author, Steinem has made immeasurable contributions to social justice and civil rights movements. Her work spans generations and takes her to communities around the world. History will remember her efforts as significant.

There are many important quotes attributed to Gloria Steinem. One that continues to ruminate with me as I write this column is obvious, yet profound: “Women have value.” Of course, women have value, right? Yet, when we reflect upon this quote more deeply, we see that women are valued differently from men, often thought of as second-class citizens not only around the world, but also in this country. It is hard to believe that civic inequalities and lack of civic and basic human rights for women continue to exist today. Centuries of women oppressed have an ancient longevity difficult to overcome—Nevertheless, she persisted!

The 2011 presidential report Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being prepared for the White House Council on Women and Girls found that women still earn roughly 75 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts across all levels of education. Former President Barack Obama tweeted in January 2014, "You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls." How exactly does this country treat its women and girls? We read and hear examples of abuse and sexist acts toward women daily. In fact, we can replay news clips from the recent presidential election and easily find disparaging and degrading comments about women.

The Women’s March on Washington that took place the day after the presidential inauguration was astounding. Millions of women and supportive men worldwide answered the call to action, and delivered a strong message that it is time for this country and the world to embrace women’s equality, which includes women with low incomes, women of color, lesbians, bisexual and transgender women, women with children, and women with disabilities. Eight reasons for marching on Washington were:

  • Better jobs
  • Equal pay and fair wages
  • Improved workplace practices
  • Leadership roles
  • Caregiving support and quality child care
  • Affordable housing
  • Physical security
  • Healthcare, including reproductive services

Even within this University, I recognize we have challenges, as our student nonprofit EqualPayUSA has revealed, and we will continue to address those along with other workplace conditions as best we can. It is clear that we still have a long way to go to reduce inequalities and improve the social, civil, and political rights of all women within our community, across the nation, and around the world.

Before Steinem spoke in Laxson Auditorium, I attended a small reception in her honor. I observed her as she greeted guests and talked intimately with each one. Her ability to listen intently and learn, along with an unwavering compassion for others, was remarkable to witness. Toward the end of the reception, I had the opportunity to exchange a few thoughts and stories with Steinem. Folks have asked me what we talked about so intently. Well, she asked me to tell her my story, and I did, albeit briefly. The exchange we had left me feeling like I had just talked with one of my dearest friends. Simply stated, it was awesome.

When we joined a sold-out crowd gathered at the auditorium, Steinem delivered the same enthusiasm and energy for the audience that she had expressed at the reception. I am sure it was the same level of focus and intensity shared with students earlier that day. She spoke for 40 minutes then devoted an equal amount of time to audience participation in the form of questions and answers, saying she learns best when she listens and that communities organize when people talk with one another.

There was a wonderful exchange of ideas, questions, and answers. The message from Steinem was strong—people working together drive social and political change. Toward the end of the night, a student asked her to describe an act of activism of which she was most proud. Steinem responded with a thoughtful and profound reply: “I have not done it yet.” Steinem’s message was clear—we must never rest on our laurels, instead we must always forge ahead in the fight for social justice, gender equality, and civil rights.

Several weeks later, I am still reflecting upon the stories in My Life on the Road and those Steinem told while at Chico State. And I am more inspired now, having met her in person, by her passion for social justice and her depth of knowledge, wisdom, common sense, and genuine expression of caring. Gloria Steinem is a living legend whose efforts and activism have made a difference in the lives of millions and whose best efforts are yet to come. The story of Gloria Steinem’s life on the road is a call to action for all to continue the journey for social justice and civil rights. 

Sincerely,

Gayle E. Hutchinson

President

Press kit art for the film .Stories in Thread: A Tapestry of Hmong Identity.

Achievements

Brian Brazeal, Anthropology, was the executive producer on Stories in Thread: A Tapestry of Hmong Identity, a student film by Tamara Maxey. Read more.

video still showing campus with a Together We Will banner in the foreground.

Together We Will

On the occasion of her inauguration, President Gayle E. Hutchinson made a bold statement about her vision for inclusive excellence. Watch video.