BY ELIZABETH SCHMITT
Dear Bishop Ricken,
In your letter published Jan. 8, you condemn the visit of Gloria Steinem to the St. Norbert College campus.
Steinem advocated for women’s rights at a time when the feminist movement needed a leader. She is a journalist who began her work in advocacy and has never stopped. Steinem gave women Ms. Magazine, giving women a voice and allowing their stories to be published. She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus, The Ms. Foundation for Women and the Women’s Media Center. These groups advocate for women’s leadership, girls empowerment and non-sexist portrayals of women in media. These are just three examples of Steinem’s abundant accomplishments. To generalize her career as pro-choice advocacy is simply untrue and paints with too broad a brush.
During their visit to St. Norbert, Steinem and bell hooks will discuss domestic violence, a topic both women have addressed extensively in their work. The issue of domestic violence, as you point out, is one that deserves greater attention. Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence and one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to Safe Horizon. Though you claim there is an internal contradiction to the logic of St. Norbert in inviting Steinem, I believe that the logic is sound. The college will invite influential, brilliant and thought-provoking women to an academic institution so the community can learn about new issues and varying points of view. Based on the statistics above, it is college students who need to hear this information more than any other group. Denying the ‘opposition’ a voice is cowardice and a lack of confidence in one’s own opinions. To hear differing opinions is crucial to developing tolerance and understanding and integral to a college education. Your attempt to disinvite Steinem is denying students and the larger community an opportunity to hear what Steinem has to say.
Your letter condemns SNC’s decision to invite Steinem and posits that SNC is not a ‘vibrant’ Catholic college. I respectfully disagree. I could just as easily claim that the Church is not vibrant because it excludes LGBTQ members from full participation, which makes me question the logic of the enterprise of the Catholic Church. What SNC does so well is extend radical hospitality and community to all persons, unlike the Church. This is not just a social justice teaching, as you are led to believe. This is a moral and biblical teaching. The inclusion of all is a value that Jesus taught his disciples and subsequently all Christians. Furthermore, I believe that the morals SNC has instilled in me as a student have been those of tolerance, love, open-mindedness and community.
I am disappointed in the uproar that your letter and subsequent articles have incited. One does not have to agree with Gloria Steinem’s opinions to hear what she has to say. I can say with certainty that the dialogue will be a beautiful, historic and captivating event between scholar bell hooks and Steinem. I will hold this image in my head moving forward, because I am sure that voices of intolerance and hatred will continue.
Bishop Ricken, you are wrong. You are wrong in attempting to disinvite Steinem because of your fear in people hearing an opposing viewpoint. You are wrong that SNC is not a vibrant community or that we only embrace certain parts of the Catholic tradition. Finally, you are wrong in assuming that there is an inherent contradiction in Steinem’s agenda. This visit is an honor and instead of condemning it, you should encourage your faith community to attend it with an open mind.