Equality vs. Liberation in Chicago – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Equality vs. Liberation in Chicago

Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer moderated what she called “an engaging and lively discussion on the question of equality and/or liberation” as National Women’s Hall of Fame forum, “Does Equality Ask Us to Settle for Less?” The forum took place on Monday, Nov. 17 at Roosevelt University, in Chicago, Ill.

National Women’s Hall of Fame is the nation’s oldest membership organization dedicated to honoring and celebrating the achievements of distinguished American women. An interdisciplinary group of panelists, women who are founders and leaders of organizations, will be welcomed and introduced by Charles R. Middleton, president of Roosevelt University, and Susan E. Henking, president of Shimer College.

“Roosevelt is honored and privileged to host this topical panel in the context of our social justice mission and our abiding commitment to supporting women’s rights and opportunities in all contexts,” says Middleton.

“Shimer College is delighted to partner with the National Women’s Hall of Fame,” adds Henking, who notes Shimer’s founders Frances Wood and Cinderella Gregory came from Upstate New York, where the Hall is physically located. “We share a vision where education matters, where history matters including the history of all women, and where democratic citizenship matters for all.”

The forum’s panelists include: Jill S. Tietjen, president of the Board of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and author of “Her Story: A Timeline of the Women who Changed America;” Carol L. Adams, president and CEO of DuSable Museum of African American History; Cecilia A Conrad, vice president of MacArthur Fellows Program; Marjorie Jolles, associate professor and acting director, Women’s and Gender Studies, Roosevelt University; and Deborah Siegel, author of “Sisterhood Interrupted,” TedX speaker, and thought leadership coach.

Siegel notes, “Popular feminist conversations about achieving equality go in circles – is it women, or the structures of power, that need to ‘lean in?’ – but we rarely have the opportunity to debate more radical visions. As the mother of five-year-old boy/girl twins, and as someone who writes about gender across generations, I’m eager to re-kindle the conversation about liberation with this amazing, cross-disciplinary crew.”

Conrad echoes her sentiment, saying she is “honored and excited to be part of the dynamic group,” that will “reconsider the question of economic and political equality for women.”

“How would you know when you reached equality?” says Tietjen. “Throughout history, members of underrepresented groups have made sacrifices and settled for less in order to be included and to advance rights and social progress for themselves and their cohort. I will approach this panel discussion relying on my experience as a woman engineer and the only woman on both corporate boards on which I serve.”

The framework for the panel was inspired by Bayer’s revisiting of the Declaration of Sentiments set out in 1848 and read in Seneca Falls at a convention for women’s rights and by current national discourse on women’s ‘progress.’

“Is this progress?” Bayer asks. “Is one woman president or presidential candidate a measure of progress? Is another penny added to a woman’s dollar the sign of an ever-approaching equality? To return to the Declaration is to revisit this document’s call for change across the entirety of the social order, and indeed, the very capacities of one’s self.”

Panelist Jolles is looking forward to the conversation about women, power and justice. She says, “It’s high time for a discussion about the language of equality for women, and what that language assumes and obscures. Feminist insights into the limitations of ‘equality’ rhetoric could offer new visions for justice and liberation for both women and men.”

Among the questions the panelists addressed were:
• What are we saying when we say women seek equality?
• Is our work about equality, liberation or both?
• What would equality look like? Liberation?
• As we pursue our goals, in what ways do we each engage as public intellectuals and/or leaders? And how do we do so across different kinds of institutions?
• Is legislation and/or legal change the answer to persistent gaps in wages, gender, race and class justice?
• Does a human rights discourse miss the point of liberation or re-envisioning justice?

Bayer was recently named to the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Since then, she has been instrumental in establishing multi-institutional collaborations with the NWHF and organizing discussions around the themes of equality versus liberation and on women and science. For example, she arranged for Tietjen to visit the main campus of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) earlier in the day to speak to engineering students on “Halls of History, Horizons of Leadership: Women Engineering the Future.”

“IIT Armour College of Engineering is honored to provide our engineering students the opportunity to hear from such an pioneering engineer,” says the school’s Dean, Natacha DePaola.

Since fall 2013, Bayer has been a senior fellow at the Martin Marty Center for the Study of Religion at the University of Chicago. She joins a handful of senior and junior fellows at The Martin Marty Center from across a number of disciplines and institutions for rigorous interchange on questions of religion inside and outside the academy.

Recognized for her outstanding teaching ability, she received the Colleges’ prestigious Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award in 2004 and the Community Service Award in 2009. She has served as the chair of the Women Studies Program since 2001 and directed the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men from 2002 to 2009. Bayer earned her Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. in psychology from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

Her recent publications include “Enchantment in an age of occupy” (2012, Women’s Studies Quarterly), and two essays on critical history and theory of feminism and on spirituality (SAGE, 2014). In her tenure last year at the Martin Marty Center, she gave her senior fellow public lecture “Endings Without End: ‘When Prophecy Fails’ and the Rise of New Age Spirituality and Cognitive Dissonance,” also published on the Center’s web forum and responded to by Kathryn Lofton (Yale University). She will give a second public lecture this year.

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