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Feminism group launches at Liberty University to counteract male-dominant leadership


‘Women are seen as more of a supporter rather than a leader here’

Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world. The school is known for its conservative values and education based in Judeo-Christian principles.

However, some female students at the private, Virginia-based institution say they believe it lacks in recognizing women’s equality and falls short in providing enough female leadership examples.

With that, a group of female students at Liberty recently launched an American Association of University Women chapter, which aims to promote equality and female empowerment.

“I think that they don’t intentionally create an environment that lacks women leadership, but I think that the traditional culture that’s passed down from the founders, the leaders, and just the environment of where we are in Virginia, kind of passed over to our school,” said student Charissa Mattera, president of the American Association of University Women chapter at Liberty, in an interview with The College Fix.

“So not that it’s intentional, but I think a lot of people here hold traditional views that kind of go against women’s leadership,” she said.

Addi Tarr, student vice president of the American Association of University Women chapter at Liberty, said this isn’t a push to overtake men, just to create an equilibrium.

“[We are] bringing light to issues that we have found on this campus specifically. Which is men tend to get the upper hand with things and women are seen as more of a supporter rather than a leader here,” Tarr told The Fix.

“It’s really just bringing awareness to that, and once awareness comes through education and through speakeasies and open discussions, then we can begin to actually realize how do we fight this, what are the next steps to take to make sure that women are empowered and are heard?”

The chapter officially launched Jan. 31. A launch party that drew about 20 people included colorful streamers of blue and purple, upbeat music, snacks and a raffle. Future guest speakers are a big part of the group’s agenda.

Mattera told The Fix they do not have statistics regarding their assertion Liberty is male heavy in leadership, just anecdotal evidence. For example, she said, Liberty has not had a female student government president or vice president.

“There was a female who is actually a part of our club who ran for VP, but didn’t end up getting it even though she was very qualified,” Mattera said.

However, Student Government President Jacob Page told The Fix that Liberty did have a female student government president during the 2010-11 school year. He also stated that currently there are two female class presidents and two female class vice presidents. He said that shows 50 percent of the class officers are female, contradicting the claim Liberty is male dominant when it comes to student leadership.

Page also pointed out there is a large number of females in administration on campus.

As for the new group, despite being one that promotes women’s equality, it still adheres to Christian values. For example, it is pro-life and against abortion, its leaders said. When it comes to Christianity and feminism, they added that is compatible, too.

Tarr said Jesus provided the ultimate example of how to treat women equally, and therefore if one identifies as a Christian, they should be a feminist.

“If you look at the life of Jesus, how he treated women and the way that he lived his life, how he always gave [women] a voice and a place at the table when it wasn’t always culturally accepted — I think we should follow that,” Tarr said.

Mattera holds a similar view.

“I think that they completely align,” she said of Christianity and feminism. “Because feminism is not women overpowering men in any way. … The way that Jesus always treated women in the Bible was never demeaning. It was never just that they were support and that’s it. It was always that they are an individual, they’re their own person, and they deserved the same respect as men and the same value as men.”

According to the association’s website, its student organizations demand equality for women on campus: “AAUW has a rich history of taking action on women’s issues and building feminist communities. Our more than 100 student organizations carry on this history of campus activism and challenging the status quo.”

“It’s a brand-new chapter, and I believe time will tell how useful and inspiring this AAUW chapter will prove to be on campus. It’s exciting to watch things unfold,” faculty advisor Virginia Dow, an associate professor of English at Liberty, told The College Fix in an email interview.

Dow did not respond to a question regarding the students’ claims that Liberty University is male-dominant in its leadership.

Editor’s Note: This article has been amended to add an interview with Student Government President Jacob Page, who cited a number of female leaders on campus to contradict the claim by the AAUW group that Liberty is male-dominant in its leadership. 

IMAGE: Katherine Welles / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Brittany Slaughter -- Liberty University