Steinem praises university for a distinguished history of women’s education and groundbreaking research

Rutgers has launched a campaign to create an endowed chair named for Gloria Steinem – one of the most prominent modern American feminists – that will focus on the creative and complex ways information technology and new media are reshaping culture and power relationships.

The Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies will be a unique collaboration among Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership, School of Communication and Information, and Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the School of Arts and Sciences.

“As you look back over the last 40 years, no movement has made a greater difference on how we think of issues concerning fairness and equity than the women’s movement, and Gloria is a symbol of that movement,” said Alison R. Bernstein, director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership. “Marrying the two disciplines at Rutgers could magnify the impact of the global women’s movement not just for the present, but for future generations as well.”

Rutgers has announced the launch of a new endowed chair named for Gloria Steinem – one of the most prominent modern American feminists.
Photo: Courtesy of the Office of Gloria Steinem

Steinem has devoted more than four decades to advancing women’s rights and human rights on a global scale. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 – the highest honor the United States bestows on a citizen who is not in the military.

Organizers hope to have the chair filled by the 2016-2017 academic year, which coincides with the university’s 250th anniversary as well as the 25th anniversary of the institute.

The Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair will immerse students in debate and scholarship on such issues as how the changing media landscape can bring about social change by overcoming gender and racial stereotypes, and how new media technologies are influencing the power structure in the United States and beyond.

Specifically, the emphasis will be on the relationships among media technologies and democracy, social change, gender and racial equality, and public policy.

The endowed chair has received support from the Ford Foundation, the John and James L. Knight Foundation and the Charles H. Revson Foundation, among others.

In addition, individual gifts have come from such diverse sources as Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead; and Mortimer Zuckerman, owner and publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report.

The advisory board for the new enterprise includes Geraldine Laybourne, who led the creation of the cable network Nickelodeon brand and later founded Oxygen Media; and Subha V. Barry, principal of SV Barry Consulting Group, former senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Freddie Mac and Merrill Lynch, and a member of the Director’s Advisory Board at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

In a letter to Bernstein, whose idea this chair was, when plans for the chair were still in their early stages, Steinem expressed both delight and surprise at being chosen for the accolade.

“When I learned of your interest in creating a chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers – and doing it in my name – it was hard to wrap my mind around,” she wrote. “It is both a first and unique combination of two growing fields of study, and a personal honor for the work and the global movement that matter most to me.”

Steinem, who co-founded Ms. Magazine with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, among others, in 1971, praised Rutgers for its “long and distinguished history of women’s education and groundbreaking research.”

She cited in particular the founding of Douglass College (now Douglass Residential College) in 1918, the launching of the Center for American Women in Politics in 1971, and the development of the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) in 1991. The institute is a consortium of teaching, research and public services units at Rutgers.

Steinem spoke at Rutgers last year, delivering the Susan and Michael J. Angelides Lecture to an overflow audience of 800 students, faculty and staff. Sponsored by the IWL, the series brings to campus distinguished women leaders from a wide spectrum of backgrounds.

The person who occupies the Steinem chair will teach, conduct research, and lead seminars and colloquia focusing on ways to diversify voices in the media, Bernstein said.

Claire McInerney, acting dean of Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information, said the interdisciplinary chair will link students with scholars, experts and working professionals, empowering them with expertise in issues surrounding media, digital storytelling, society and technology.

“We expect that graduates from our journalism/media and information technology programs will take roles as directors, producers, writers and filmmakers with high-quality academic preparation and the practical experience made possible by the distinguished individual who becomes chair,” McInerney said.  

The Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies already has received more than $1 million in pledges from donors. An endowed chair typically requires $3 million in commitments.The initiative is part of the largest fundraising year in Rutgers’ history and supports Our Rutgers, Our Future, a $1 billion campaign publicly launched in 2010 to broaden and enhance the myriad ways the university serves students, the state and the world.

Established in 1766, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning. The Rutgers system educates more than 65,000 students and serves the people of New Jersey at universities, research centers and clinical practices throughout the state. The flagship, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, is one of the nation’s premier public research universities and is the only public institution in New Jersey represented in the prestigious Association of American Universities. Rutgers University is also a member of the Big Ten Conference and its academic counterpart, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation – a consortium of 15 world-class research universities.