July 21, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers establishes Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies

The chair will address women's underrepresentation in top leadership positions in the media

Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

The Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies was a joint effort between the Institute for Women's Leadership, the School of Communication and Information and the Department of Women's and Gender Studies.

The Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies is the newest addition to the Rutgers Board of Governors.

Funded by more than 425 donors, the chair aims to challenge students in debate and scholarship focusing on new media, social change and power structures, according to a Rutgers press release

Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership in conjunction with the School of Communication and Information and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies will lead in brainstorming for this chair.

Gloria Steinem, who the chair is named for, is a world-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist. In the 1960s and 70s, she became nationally recognized as a leader in the feminist movement and published the famous article “After Black Power, Women's Liberation” in New York Magazine.

The press release said that the occupant of the chair will teach, conduct research and lead discussions on ways to increase the accuracy and diversity of the way all people see through various media lenses.

The person who sits in this chair will be chosen from media innovators from across the world.

Lisa Hetfield, associate director and director of development for Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership, said that the creation of this chair will attract talented media scholars and professionals to Rutgers to teach, practice their craft and engage the campus and outside communities in debating important issues and voicing their opinions.

A new gender and media minor co-sponsored by the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and the School of Communication and Information is already being introduced as a result of this chair.

“(The chair) is a remarkable opportunity for Rutgers to build on its excellence in women’s education and in communications to inspire and educate more innovative and diverse media leaders,” Hetfield said.

Hetfield assumed the position of interim director of the institute after the untimely death of its late director, Alison R. Bernstein, one of the strongest fighters in support of this chair.

“(Bernstein) understood that there is a crisis of representation and leadership in the media,” she said. ”Women and people of color are not equal partners in telling the story, nor are they equal partners in sourcing and interpreting what and who is important in the story.”

Hetfield said that Bernstein was convinced that Rutgers, being a prominent public university with a diverse student population, could address the underrepresentation of women in top leadership across all media sectors.

“(This would) broaden and deepen our understanding of the current issues and possible solutions,” Hetfield said.

Gloria Steinem shares Bernstein’s vision for a more diverse and democratic media.

In Steinem’s words, “I’m very proud that the late Alison Bernstein, a visionary scholar who directed Rutgers’ Institute for Women’s Leadership, committed this chair to inclusiveness and accuracy. I’m also proud that Rutgers is not only one of the oldest and most respected public universities, but has a student population that looks like the nation. I’ve come to believe it’s as good as Harvard – with democracy added. It also happens to be next to one of the media capitals of the world.”

Hetfield said that the Steinem Chair will give students increased opportunities to learn from the most creative and experienced media innovators and that it and affiliated programs will increase students’ understanding of ways to harness media for social change.

Already the Institute for Women’s Leadership, the School of Communication and Information and the School of Arts and Sciences have collaborated to develop the Alison R. Bernstein Media Mentoring Program, which aims to pair young graduates seeking careers in media with accomplished women in these fields.

Contributions to the chair’s endowment ranged from $10 to $500,000, Hetfield said.

She said that credit for this success should go to the Gloria Steinem Chair Steering Committee of volunteers, which was co-chaired by Geraldine Laybourne and Subha Barry, two women leaders, and visionaries.

“Working closely with Gloria Steinem herself, this committee of media leaders hosted events, spread the word about the campaign and reached out to individuals to ask for contributions,” Hetfield said.

Alison Bernstein approached leading foundations early on in the fundraising campaign, such as the Ford Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, asking them to make leadership gifts, she said. They were subsequently joined by other distinguished foundations.

“Mid-way through the campaign, a $200,000 donation from media pioneer and CEO of Zone Communication, Fran Zone/John Mack Carter Fund pushed us passed the $2 million mark. Her gift along with a major gift made possible by filmmaker Abigail Disney were critical to keeping the momentum going,” Hetfield said.

Alison Bernstein’s passing reinforced the committee’s zealousness and determination in reaching their goal of $3 million, she said.

Hetfield said one of the best parts about the fundraising campaign was seeing the many reasons people contributed.

“Some gave because Gloria Steinem had inspired them when they were students years ago. Others gave because they want to see more feminist media, still others gave to honor a woman in their lives – their wives, mothers, daughters, who share Gloria’s commitment to equality,” she said. “Still, others gave because Rutgers had given transformative opportunities and they wanted to give back ... the excitement was contagious.”

Stephen Weiss

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