- McKenzie Berezin/Daily
By Bethany Biron, Managing News Editor
Published October 22, 2012
At a forum on women’s rights on Monday afternoon, tension among attendees seemed to mirror the rising discord and polarization within Congress on gender politics this election cycle.
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A crowd of about 150 students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents packed into the Hatcher Graduate Library to listen to prominent feminist figures discuss the plight of American women amid a transforming political culture. The event, titled “The Republican War on Women,” spurred outcry among students and local officials who expressed concern that the University was demonstrating a liberal bias and defying campaign finance laws by using public funding to support a partisan event.
LSA senior Rachel Jankowski, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, drafted a letter to University Provost Philip Hanlon, urging University officials to cancel the forum and noted that legal action may be taken against the University.
“As a woman and the chair of the College Republicans, I am incredibly offended that the University of Michigan has the audacity to promote such a blatantly fallacious forum,” she wrote in the letter. “This is an insult to every woman who has ever supported the Republican Party and its candidates, and only further creates tension and division.”
Fellow members of the University’s chapter of College Republicans mobilized in opposition to the event and organized a protest on the steps of the library before the meeting, carrying signs and airing their grievances with passersby.
LSA senior Brian Koziara, a senior adviser to the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said he felt the nature of the event was oppressive to conservative students.
“The title of this event really seems to be laying blame on Republicans, and since it’s an officially University sponsored event, it seems like the University is taking sides on the issue,” he said.
LSA senior Arielle Zupmore echoed Koziara, saying she felt the University was infringing upon her rights to attend an unbiased institution of higher education.
“I was really upset, because as a women who is a Republican and very involved with the party, I found it really, really embarrassing that I also have to call myself a Wolverine at a school that is sponsoring a partisan event,” she said.
Despite claims that the University breached state policy, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham wrote in a statement that the event was not in violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act because it was purely informational and not promotional.
“It was our understanding that the event was never intended to endorse a political position,” Cunningham wrote. “It was a thoughtful, critical analysis of how the media has covered the issues around gender in politics and the historical place of women in the electorate. It was very much an educational forum. “
She added that holding events that promote discourse among diverse perspectives is one of the University’s primary objectives.
“This type of intelligent, thoughtful and respectful dialogue among people of diverse views makes the University of Michigan such a special place,” she wrote.
Susan Douglas, chair of the Communications Studies department and moderator of the event, sought to dispel concern over implications of the title of the event, explaining that the term “Republican War Against Women” derives from a book published in 1996 by Tanya Melich that detailed the ideological shifts of the GOP on women’s rights throughout history.
During the panel discussion, Katha Pollitt, a writer for the magazine The Nation said she believes the Republican party “sends out complicated vibes” and conflicting messages, noting an incident in which Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told an Iowa newspaper that he had no plans to enact anti-abortion policies.