Friday, June 21, 2013

Lilly Ledbetter's Visit to Daemen College

Lilly Ledbetter poses with students from Dr. Messinger's class in American 
Women's History after her April 22 lecture. Front row:  Lilly Ledbetter & Molly Sievenpiper; Back row: Dr. Penny Messinger, Jessica Todd, Chelsea Holtham, Chelsea Savastano, & Laura Bowman

Lilly Ledbetter at Daemen

On April 22, 2013, renowned equal pay advocate Lilly Ledbetter came to Daemen.  She talked about her experiences working at Goodyear, her court suit addressing pay discrimination, and the response to her 2007 Supreme Court case (Ledbetter v. the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company).  This case made Lilly Ledbetter "the grandmother of equal pay."  The lecture was our headline event for Daemen's celebration of Women's History Month.  

Daemen College Trustee Wayne Wisbaum talks with President Gary Olson and Lilly Ledbetter

Although Ledbetter lost her 2007 case before the Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginzburg issued a strong dissent as a Bench Announcement, calling for Congressional action to amend the Court's interpretation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Ginzburg stated that "In our view [Ginzburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer], the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination."  Ginzburg concluded by calling for Congress to take action: "the Legislature has cause to note and correct this Court's parsimonious reading of Title VII."  Congress responded by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.  This was the first bill signed into law by newly-inaugurated President Barack Obama, with Lilly Ledbetter standing by his side.

Daemen Student Association President Special Thompson (Psychology major, Pre-Law minor) and Lilly Ledbetter

Since her court case Ledbetter has embraced her public role as "the grandmother of equal pay," a person whose historical legacy is embodied in the 2009 law that was named in her honor.  Ledbetter's visit to Daemen coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which bans pay discrimination on the basis of gender.

Daemen student Heather Williams with Lilly Ledbetter, Adriane Williams (Academic Advisement), & AAUW member Ruby Williams (Heather's mom)

Arthur Cruz (Political Science major) with Lilly Ledbetter

After the lecture Lilly signed copies of her book, Grace and Grit, and posed for photos.  She told me that the opportunity to meet and talk with students is a favorite part of her public appearances, and that she had enjoyed her time with Daemen students.  Students in my American Women's History class described Lilly as "a real person" who was "genuine" and "down to earth," but also noted that her speech was "invigorating" and "empowering."   

In her lecture, Lilly emphasized how important the issue of pay equity is for everyone, regardless of gender, race, or age.  Lilly's speech at Daemen drew a crowd of around 400 people and was covered in this story from The Buffalo News.  Ledbetter's appearance was made possible by support from the Daemen Student Association; the Office of Academic Affairs; the Women's Studies Program; and the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Brogan, Lilly Ledbetter, Dr. Penny Messinger (History), Dr. Shirley Peterson (English)

Lilly Ledbetter wrote in her book, Grace and Grit,
After all that's happened to me, I've realized that the true test of an individual is not so much what happens to her, but how she reacts to it.  When we see an injustice, do we sit and do nothing, or do we fight back? When we experience failure, do we passively accept it, or do we learn from it and do better the next time?  When we get knocked down, do we stay down, or do we get back up?  Each of us, every day, breaks through barriers for women and girls simply because we choose to believe the future can be better.  (p. 236)

AAUW Buffalo chapter Co-Presidents Betty Preble (l) and Barb Carier (r) with Lilly Ledbetter
Next year, we will be building on the success of Lilly's appearance as we continue collaborating with the American Association of University Women (AAUW).  The AAUW has advocated gender pay equity as a signature issue for over 50 years, and support from the Buffalo Chapter of the AAUW helped to make Lilly Ledbetter's visit a reality and a success.  Plans are in the works for a workshop on salary negotiation that can help students research salary information and learn how to negotiate a higher starting salary.  I'm also working with interested students to start an AAUW student group at Daemen.  (learn more about AAUW's student affiliates here).  Because Daemen has an institutional membership in the AAUW, there is no cost for a student e-membership.

Contact Dr. Penny Messinger, director of the Women's Studies program, for more information about Women's Studies at Daemen. 

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Penny Messinger said...
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