Author: Alison Albitz
The tone in the Carriage House lounge was one of somber disinterest as a small group of students and faculty gathered to watch the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017.
Author: Alison Albitz
The tone in the Carriage House lounge was one of somber disinterest as a small group of students and faculty gathered to watch the Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017.
Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
Unpredictable. Traumatic. Discriminatory. Unprecedented. Those are the words alumnae, students, and faculty have used to describe the impending Trump Administration. In the days that followed the news of who the country’s next president would be, waves of shock and disappointment were felt throughout Chatham’s campus. President Finegold sent a campus-wide email of reassurance, some took the day off, the Carriage House’s lounge became a designated safe space; but life goes on.
On Wednesday, April 1, accomplished journalist and political commentator Cokie Roberts visited Chatham University as the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics 2014-2015 Elsie Hillman Chair.
Through the Hillman Chair, the PCWP brings, “nationally renowned political leaders, scholars, and activists to Chatham University to enrich the experiences of students and educate citizens about the role of women in the political process,” according to the Center’s website.
At 5 p.m. Roberts addressed an intimate group of students in the Mellon Living Room. She primarily discussed her background and answered students’ questions.
Roberts was born to two political parents—Congressman Hale Boggs and Congresswoman and ambassador Lindy Boggs.
“I am the only member of my immediate nuclear family, my original nuclear family, not to run for Congress,” said Roberts. “Now they didn’t all win—the only person who never lost was my mother—but it is something that I feel somewhat guilty about…because I do think that it is the place where you can make the most difference for the most people.”
“I take some comfort from the fact that I try to explain the political process to people,” she said.
At 18, Roberts met Steven Roberts, the man she would marry, while she was attending Wellesley—a women’s college. He wanted to be a journalist and her political career would have interfered with his journalistic one.
Roberts graduated from Wellesley in 1964, the same year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Roberts didn’t know at the time how important the bill—which outlawed employers from discriminating based on race, national origin, religion, and gender—would be to her and other women.
“We knew that it mattered politically, but we didn’t know it mattered to us,” she said.
“The affirmative action that resulted from that has affected many more white women than any African Americans in the country because of the sex provision in the Civil Rights Bill,” she said.
After college, Roberts began working as a question writer for a high school quiz TV show at a woman-owned production house in Washington, D.C. She was soon promoted to anchor of a news show in which foreign correspondents talked to American public figures.
At 22, Roberts married and relocated to be with her husband, who had a job at the New York Times.
“It never occurred to either one of us that I would not quit my job and move to New York to be with him…because that’s the way the world was,” she said.
After years of working various journalism jobs—including covering Greece’s governmental turmoil in the 1970s—Roberts joined NPR and has been working there ever since, always with a second job (first at PBS and now at ABC).
“It was a long, kind of crooked path that got me here today,” she said.
Roberts now writes history books—the most recent of which, “Capital Dames,” will be on sale in mid-April—and spends time doing non-profit work, particularly with Save the Children.
“Even though it’s not satisfying to tell you these stories because there’s no path and there’s no way of saying you should do this and then you could do that and then you could do that, it’s actually more exemplary of the kind of life you’re likely to lead because the world is changing all the time,” she said.
“You’ve already gotten a big head start…by going to a liberal arts school,” Roberts continued. “It really is by far the smartest thing to do because what you’re learning to do is think and synthesize and communicate in writing and speaking, and those talents will be called upon no matter what you do.”
From a Liberal Arts college, Roberts said, “you can leave and figure it out and you can keep refiguring it out. There’s nothing that says that you have to know at 21 what you want to do for the rest of your life, or at 31, or at 41. There’s lots of time to change.”
“I think that this funny example that I have to offer is in some ways instructive for the world that you’re going into, and I think you’re going to have a wonderful experience in it because of the background you have here,” she said.
After answering a few student questions, the group dispersed, and many headed to the Chapel, already teeming with members of the Pittsburgh community, for Roberts’ lecture entitled, “An Insider’s View of Washington, D.C.”
After introductions from Executive Director of the PCWP, University President Esther Barazzone, and chair of the PCWP Cynthia D. Shapira, Roberts approached the podium.
Roberts began by addressing the camaraderie that used to exist between parties in the mid to late twentieth century and why it is gone today. She attributes this to several factors.
First, in this post war era, Congress consisted of men who, “had literally been in foxholes together.”
“There was a sense that we were all in everything together, and the enemy was not the guy across the aisle; it was the dictator across the sea,” she said.
Second, members of congress used to socialize outside of work more often. They and their families would live in the region and attend events together. Today, Roberts said people view Washington as “Sodom on the Potomac,” and “the enemy.”
Third, for politicians today, the campaign never stops. They are always running, and the decisions they make have the potential to affect their chances in the next election. It is difficult in this environment to make compromises that might be best for the country but may not please one’s constituents.
Finally, Roberts cited the way in which district lines are drawn. Due to gerrymandering—the drawing of district lines by elected officials to ensure victories in their party—incumbents can become so safe from opposition that they need not worry about compromising.
Although Roberts admits that “there probably isn’t any single [cure]” for Washington’s current climate, the “best cure,” she said, is more women in politics.
According to Roberts, women most frequently cross party lines.
“They do come together, and they do it very consciously,” she said.
Women in the Senate regularly have dinners in which they are able to accomplish a great deal in what Roberts called a, “testosterone-free zone,” and their names frequently appear together on pieces of legislation.
“Pennsylvania needs to get with the program,” said Roberts, citing figures Brown had included in her introduction—as of January of this year, there are no women in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, Pennsylvania has never elected a woman governor or senator, and only 18 percent of its legislature is comprised of women.
Roberts then answered audience questions on a range of topics, including how she characterizes herself (primarily as a mother); about if Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner’s occasional working together suggests a, “crack in the mess in Washington” (“I think there’s a bit of a crack”); and about what schools, families, and communities can do to create smarter, more conscious consumers of news media (“First, create consumers of news, period,” and use historical newspapers as teaching tools in the classroom).
One audience member asked if Roberts saw any signs for hope in the political system.
“I know that some of the analysis of where we are right now is always depressing, but we shouldn’t get ourselves in the frame of mind where it makes us depressed about the country,” she said. “People ask me all the time, ‘Is there any good news?’ And the answer is yes, absolutely; go to a naturalization ceremony if you want to feel good about this country.”
In Brown’s closing remarks, she asked Roberts what is in store for the 2016 primary and general elections, to which Roberts replied, “Who knows?”
She has no specific predictions—“That’s what makes it fun”—but she acknowledged the “wide open Republican race” and that, “something’s going to happen on the Democratic side.”
“It’s crazy for people to not get in [the race] because anything can happen,” she said. “We’re just going to have to see if it’s anybody serious or just a bunch of crazy people.”
Women make up half of the population, and yet they tend to get nowhere near the many seats in local and state legislatures. When race intersects with gender, the numbers dwindle even further.
Women of color are often underrepresented in political offices. According to the 2012 United States Census, women of color make up an estimated 18.5 percent of the population, but they are less likely than their white counterparts–male or female–to hold office. This past midterm election left Pennsylvania without a female representative in the newly elected congress.
As many may know, for the past four years Chatham University’s own Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics hosts a Ready to Run Conference. At this bipartisan conference, participants are given training techniques that help them learn to fundraise, utilize political parties, and generally run successful campaigns for office. The program itself is four years old and is modeled after the National Network Partner Program from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
On January 30, before the conference itself started, a two-hour panel was held, dedicated to the unique challenges that women of color who run for office are likely to face. The panel itself was made up of those with experience in this area. On the panel sat Councilwoman Marita Garrett, Chief Urban Affairs Officer Valerie McDonald-Roberts, and Pittsburgh Public School board member Sylvia Wilson.
When asked why the pre-conference was necessary, Dana Brown, the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics Executive Director, responded by saying, “We know from political science research that women of color often face different issues on the campaign trail and want to make sure that we are able to offer space and time to understand what those differences are and how to be successful if you are a women of color running.”
The panelists offered those in attendance advice on how to deal with unique challenges and run a successful campaign.
The Center has often stated that an obstacle to women on both sides of the aisle holding office is not running to begin with. Women are generally less likely to run for office, and women of color are even less likely to run.
Beyond the challenges, Brown shared that women of color who hold office are more likely to represent diverse communities and various identities.
When asked what she hoped attendees would get out of both the panel and conference Brown responded in saying, “I hope that the participants of the Ready to Run training come away with real campaign skills like fundraising, how to develop a campaign plan, how to navigate their political party, to name a few. As a by-product of learning these skills I want women’s confidence on the campaign trail to increase.”
“Overall I hope women come away with inspiration and education,” she said.
As per usual, the first Tuesday of November marked Election Day, when inclined citizens decide who they would like to hold local, state, and national offices. Since casting a vote does not equate to understanding the process or results, the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) hosted “The Day After: Post-Election Analysis” in the Mellon Living Room, featuring a panel of political experts to break down the events of the previous day and to speculate about their effects on the future of Pennsylvania and US politics.
Dana Brown, Executive Director of the PCWP and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Chatham, began the afternoon with introductions.
After joking that the room of about 30 attendees held all of Pennsylvania’s voters, Brown stated that the goal of the panel discussion was to figure out, “what the heck happened last night.”
Brown introduced the event’s panelists, which included Melissa Daniels, a writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who specializes in state and local government coverage; Kate Giammarise, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who covers Pennsylvania state government; and Dr. Jennie Sweet-Cushman, the Assistant Director of the PCWP and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Chatham.
“The Commonwealth made history last night,” said Brown. “Depending on which side you’re on, you’re excited about it or you’re sad about it.”
Brown was referring to the victory of Democrat Tom Wolf over Republican incumbent Tom Corbett in the race for Governor. This is the first time in Pennsylvania history in which an incumbent candidate has been defeated.
In a brief overview of the election results, Brown stated that the Republican Party “won big” in the Pennsylvania state legislature. Republicans won five out of five competitive State Senate races. Republicans also added eight seats to their majority in the State House of Representatives, which will mean a 119 to 84 split between Republicans and Democrats.
According to Brown, there was a “big Republican wave” nationally, as well. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has been the Senate’s Minority Leader since 2007, will be its new Majority Leader come January. In addition, the US House of Representatives will be divided 243 to 176 between Republicans and Democrats.
Brown’s first question for the panel was about Democrat Wolf’s victory over Republican incumbent Corbett during an election in which Republicans made gains in nearly all other areas—a result that seemed to have gone, “against all of the trends,” according to Brown.
The panelists agreed that Corbett had essentially lost the election before the campaign began. He has had low favorability since he took office in 2010, and Wolf gained the “ABC” vote, or the “Anyone But Corbett” vote.
When Brown asked what Corbett could have done differently, the panelists agreed again that the issue that hurt him the most was his decision to cut funding from education.
According to Giammarise, Corbett did not communicate well from the beginning of his campaign about why he made cuts. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has also had to make drastic cuts; however, according to Giammarise, he has given explanations for his controversial decisions.
By the time Corbett began communicating his motives for the defunding, “it was too little too late,” according to Daniels.
“We know education is a really important issue, particularly for women,” said Sweet-Cushman. According to her, women broke for Wolf in, “every category you could come up with,” with the exception of white married women.
Giammarise pointed out Pennsylvania was not an anomaly in every aspect of the election; Republicans made gains in every other race. Wolf just served as an alternative to the unpopular Governor Corbett.
Further topics discussed ranged from the gridlock that Wolf is expected to face as a Democratic Governor with a Republican legislature and possible strategies he can take to work across party lines to female candidates in each party and programs that support them (The Anne Anstine Program mentors Pennsylvanian Republican women interested in running for office. Emerge America is a similar program for Democratic women across the country).
To finish up the discussion, Brown asked each of the panelists to share one “take away” from this year’s Election Night.
“For me, it’s the loss of Governor Corbett,” said Daniels. “I think that’s a story that we’ll be remembering and telling for a little bit of time in Pennsylvania political circles.”
“What happened with Governor Corbett was historic for all of the reasons we’ve discussed,” she said.
Sweet-Cushman shared a broader insight that Democrats should not be too forlorn about what Brown called a “big Republican wave.”
“The media is really, really hyping this Republican ‘landslide,’” she said. “But really when you look at it, there were very few instances of Democrats losing in areas it would be expected for them to win.”
Brown ended the event by encouraging the women in the room to attend Ready to Run, PCWP’s own bipartisan version of the Anstine Series and Emerge America. This “campaign training” seminar will take place on January 31, 2015. For more information, visit https://www.chatham.edu/pcwp/education/readytorun/.
Republicans won five out of five competitive State Senate races.
In addition, the US House of Representatives will be divided 243 to 176 between Republicans and Democrats.
To honor Constitution Day and the ladies that Abigail Adams was famous for asking her founding father husband not forget, on September 17, Chatham students and non-students alike gathered in Eddy Theatre to watch a documentary called “Madame Presidenta,” which was co-produced by the Women and Girls Foundation along with Elas Social Investment Fund.
The evening opened with Chatham’s own Dana Brown of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics recounting women’s history of political advocacy both with and without the right to vote to the audience. Following Brown, Chatham senior Sarah Pesi described the role that the Women and Girls Foundation played in her life and journey into policymaking.
After the speeches were finished Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation, took the audience on a journey to Brazil in an attempt to understand how Brazil elected its first woman president and why the United States has yet to have a “madame” president.
While in Brazil, Arnet interviewed mothers, activists, historians, and politicians. Though the interviewees had varying backgrounds, a recurring theme throughout the film was that the only way for a person (particularly a woman) to have their voice heard, was to get involved.
The film explored Brazil’s complex past in an attempt to explain how Dilma Rousseff went from being an imprisoned activist to the president. It also noted the contrasts in Brazil’s political culture–namely the redrafted constitution, mandatory voting, control around birth control, six month paid maternity leave, and the way that feminism, to quote Arnet, “Rolls off the tongue with no fear.”
After the credits rolled, the discussion began. On the panel Dr. George Reid Andrews of the University of Pittsburgh, self-proclaimed “internationalist” and “americanist” Dr. David Rossbach, and Dr. Jennie Sweet-Cushman were enlisted to shed some light.
Quotas, mandatory voting, party systems, reproductive rights, and even redrafting the constitution were brought up.
“I’ll take that six-hundred page unworkable constitution over our screwed up four page constitution at this point,” Andrews said.
“We all really dropped the ball on the women’s movement,” said Sweet-Cushman, who also noted that the lack of women running and the complex electoral system were contributing factors.
Arnet said she wanted to make this film in order to show her beloved grandmother that her dream of a woman president was not impossible.
Only time will tell if and when that dream will become a reality, because as Dana Brown told the audience at the end of the event, “History is happening now.”
On Wednesday, April 2, famed reporter Gwen Ifill visited Chatham University to give a public lecture entitled “Politics, Policy, and Reality: What’s Really Going on in Washington”.
The event was planned by the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics as the 2014 Elsie Hillman Chair in Women and Politics and it kicked off with a reception in the Mellon Living Room where Ifill talked about her life and how she got to where she is now.
After that, Ifill commanded the Campbell Memorial Chapel, which was packed full of people—many of them not affiliated with Chatham in any way. The event ended with a short Q&A for the audience.
On her beginnings as a journalist she said, “I have always wanted to be a newspaper writer. I liked the idea of asking questions and making people answer my questions, which I realized does not always occur.”
Ifill admitted that she was very lucky. She said, “I’ve lived in public housing as a child, yet I’ve travelled the world. I’ve lived from paycheck to paycheck, but I’ve interviewed presidents.”
She got work easily and moved up quickly through the world of journalism. After majoring in communications at Simmons College she had many internship opportunities and eventually landed her first job at the Boston Herald “because they let [her] in the door”.
She was asked to be a food writer although she had little experience in cooking. Ifill shared that when people called around Thanksgiving, asking her how to cook a turkey, she would make up temperatures and lengths of time for which to cook the turkey. She insisted that no one called back to say she was wrong, joking, “it either worked or they were dead.”
This experience taught her to ask about and research things that she was not familiar with. Later she worked with papers like The New York Times and Washington Post. It was there that she found her calling in political journalism. She worked at different newspapers and covered different types of politics.
In Boston she covered the school system, in Baltimore she moved up to City Hall. When she got to the Washington Post she covered county and state government. By the time she left to go to The New York Times she was covering Congress, presidential campaigns, and the White House.
On her first job covering a national campaign, Ifill was sent to see all of the candidates that had no chance of winning. Joking, she said, “It got to the point where if I walked into a candidates rally, they’d look at me and say “Oh no, Gwen’s here.” It’s like I was the angel of death!”
Ifill is now the managing editor and moderator of “Washington Week” and managing editor and co-anchor of the “PBS NewsHour”. As such, she reminisced on her two opportunities to be moderator and how both times she had moments where the candidates were unable to properly answer her.
Most memorably, she recounted asking former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Senator John Edwards about the rising HIV infections in African American Women. She specifically told them that she was not asking about AIDS in Africa. Cheney said he did not know about it and Edwards tried to tell her about his plan for AIDS in Africa. Ifill said she was later told that in Edwards’ debate preparation he was told she would ask about AIDS in Africa.
This showed the audience and the people of America who they were really voting for. Ifill said that as a moderator, questions must be chosen carefully, with voters in mind. The moderator must assume what voters really want to know about their candidates.
Ifill insisted then that people pay more attention to politics, considering politicians make so many decisions that affect American lives. She said that she watches John Stewart on “The Daily Show”, but he also watches her because you have to know the news to get the jokes. Of PBS she said, “We assume that you can decide what you think on your own. We just give you the information.”
Still, Ifill admits it is quite hard to be part of the world of journalism where optimists and idealists like her are very rare. She even said that she has liked almost every politician she has met and thought that they were honorable people. She said it was all about seeing the difference between being a skeptic and being an cynic.
She explained that skepticism is always having another question and asking “why”. Cynicism is deciding you know the answer, shutting down, and no longer listening. Ifill said, “You can be a skeptic and still be an optimist.”
And although she explained that journalists thrive on dysfunction, she said, “As much as we live for bad news, I don’t wish for bad news.” She said Washington D.C. runs on a routine of artificial deadlines, fake fights, and finger pointing—making Congress sound more like a defiant child than a collection of elected adults.
When something exciting happens, journalists suddenly face a mixture of elatedness and natural distress. She related journalism at its most challenging to her mother trying to use an orange to mask the taste of castor oil. It was a way of disguising an unpleasant truth.
However, Ifill does not plan to give up easily. She said that, as a child, she and her sister were never told that they could do things “even though you’re black” or “even though you’re a woman”. And although she never planned to go to a women’s college, she loved her experience at Simmons.
Aware that she would be asked at both events about her stance on women’s colleges, she said, “At a women’s college we learned to speak up. We learned how to be in charge. We learned how to value women’s voices and women’s world views, and we learned that change is as terrifying as it is necessary.”
Then Ifill made herself even clearer. “I know there’s a debate underway here at Chatham and I wish you the best,” she said. “I don’t know enough to tell you the way it ought to turn out, but the truth remains that your voices are valuable, and that they are important.”
Watch Gwen Ifill on “NewsHour” on PBS.