She Opened the Door and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This weekend, the first ever She Opened the Door Conference was held in Lerner Hall. She Opened the Door is the first Columbia University’s Women’s Conference created to acknowledge the achievements of women alumnae and in tribute to Winifred Edgerton Merrill, the first woman to receive a degree from Columbia University in 1886. Merrill’s portrait, which was donated to the University by the Wellesley class of 1883, was displayed next to keynote speaker Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who spoke to attendees of the conference in an interview on February 11.

Despite the University’s intention for the conference to be a celebration of its “powerful network of women,” it is notable that tickets to the conference ranged from $15 just to see Ruth Bader Ginsberg speak to $65 for access to other events including skills development workshops, speaking events, and networking opportunities. These fees raised criticism from many Columbia students, who view the conference as a perpetuation of the exclusion of low-income students from certain resources and spaces available to others on campus.

To increase inclusivity of the event, Columbia provided a live steam to watch Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s interview in real time during the conference; however, this provision hardly rectified the networking opportunities that remained inaccessible to many women on campus. Certainly, the organization of the event was costly to the University, but some expenses such as the Longchamp-lookalike bags and keynote lunch provided to attendees seemed superfluous and likely hiked up the cost of admittance. Perhaps these provisions were included to increase the sense of “professionalism” or “legitimacy” of the conference, but in doing so, they prevented certain students from acquiring tickets to the event before they sold out.

In Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s interview, she addressed the obstacles she overcame in receiving her education and perusing her career as a Jew, a woman, and a mother. Despite these hardships, Ginsberg’s tone toward the future for women was optimistic; rather than expressing anger or sadness over the difficulties she has faced, Ginsberg instead emphasized how far our nation has come in improving conditions for women. Far more justice for women, Ginsberg stated, has been obtained in her lifetime than she ever thought possible.

Though it is important for us as Columbia students to too celebrate the actions that have already been taken to create equity for women on this campus and beyond, we must still critique feminism that fails to secure equity for all. The She Opened the Door Conference, though a step in a positive direction as a celebration of what women have achieved, is still just a step. Until low-income women of this university are fully included in this campus, there is much that the University must continue to correct. As the next conference is planned for 2019, I challenge Columbia to create a space for the true celebration of all women, not just those with $65 to spare. Until then, the door will remain shut for many students of this institution.

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