Stephen Bannon vs. Seven Sisters

Leaders of women’s colleges object to what Trump’s appointee as chief White House strategist had to say about their institutions and their alumnae.

November 22, 2016
 
Stephen Bannon, between photos of Smith (left) and Barnard Colleges

The leaders of the Seven Sisters institutions issued an open letter Monday to Stephen Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump's choice as chief White House strategist, objecting to the disparaging way he referred to their institutions and students, as well as to lesbians and feminists in general.

"Other reported comments by you reflect other forms of bias, including racism, anti-Semitism and more. As the leaders of the Seven Sisters colleges, we take deep exception to these comments and ask that you take a more expansive, informed and tolerant worldview in your leadership role," says the letter.

"We are proud of our alumnae and students, who represent the spectrum of sexual orientation, race, class and religion as well as political party. Our alumnae are accomplished leaders in all spheres of public and professional life; they are committed to their work, their families and their countries. Now more than ever, we look to those who would lead the United States of America for a message of inclusion, respect and unity," the letter adds.

The letter does not include the quote that prompted the presidents to write to Bannon.

That quote came in a 2011 radio interview recently reported on by The New York Times. In the interview, Bannon spoke about why he believes many Americans respect conservative women such as Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin (the “these women” of the quote). The quote is: “These women cut to the heart of the progressive narrative. That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England. That drives the left insane, and that’s why they hate these women.”

Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, said the presidents of the Seven Sisters institutions talked among themselves about whether and how to respond to the Bannon quote. “We decided that to ignore it would be to normalize it, and we didn't want to do that,” she said. At the same time, McCartney said that the letter was written in a respectful tone “to model the kind of discourse we hope to see from him.”

As of Monday afternoon, McCartney said, the Seven Sisters presidents had not received a response. Inside Higher Ed sought and did not receive a response from the Trump transition team.

At one point the Seven Sisters were all women's colleges. Today, what was Radcliffe College is a research institute at Harvard University, and Vassar College is coeducational. The leaders of Radcliffe and Vassar joined in signing the letter.

Those signing are:

  • Debora Spar, president, Barnard College
  • Kim Cassidy, president, Bryn Mawr College
  • Sonya Stephens, president, Mount Holyoke College
  • Lizabeth Cohen, dean, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
  • Kathleen McCartney, president, Smith College
  • Jonathan Chenette, interim president, Vassar College
  • Paula Johnson, president, Wellesley College

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