Honoring Phyllis Schlafly?

May 09, 2008

As an AAUW member and alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, I was outraged to learn that the university is awarding Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree at graduation. Schlafly has campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment, gender bias laws, and Title IX. She is not just controversial; she is clearly anti-woman. For example, according to an article in The Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME), Schlafly believes that a woman cannot be raped by her husband: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape,” she said.

I agree with Mary Ann Dzuback, one of the professors I had at Washington University. In Inside Higher Ed, Dzuback points out that although the university regularly invites people with a range of views to lecture at the school, Schlafly was invited not to lecture but to be honored. “This tells the world that this administration thinks so highly of the honoree that they give her the highest degrees the university can give, the highest degree of respect. And that,” says Dzuback, “is deeply troubling.”

While the Board of Trustees unanimously decided to give Schlafly an honorary degree, it is somewhat comforting to know that university students are outraged and are taking action. A Facebook group called “No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly” already has more than 2,200 members. Postings on the site include students’ letters to the chancellor expressing their disgust with the award, as well as pledges never to donate to the university and encouraging their parents not to donate either.

With the decision to honor Schlafly already made, there’s little to do now except to protest graduation. For me, the bigger question is, How did this happen and how do we stop it from happening again? First, we must educate people about what Schlafly and other likeminded people really believe. They adamantly disagree with what AAUW stands for — equity for women.

Avatar By:   |   May 09, 2008


  1. Avatar JW says:

    Is anyone working to address the lyrics in band 3OH3’s song “Don’t Trust Me”? This song is widely distributed, popular with young people and very offensive in its discussion of women, particularly Helen Keller, the first deafblind person to earn a college degree. Helen graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904.

  2. Avatar RT Lyle says:

    Honoring Phyllis Schlafly?

    It is ludicrous that you protest this honoring. You say that she was invited to be honored not to lecture. I wonder, has she ever been asked to lecture by the women’s study group at Washington University in St. Louis. Are any of her books or books by other conservative authors required or even suggested reading for women’s studies programs? If not, how do you ever expect your students to respect diversity of thought? It seems you are more interested in indoctrination of women rather than education.

    Here you attack the messenger rather than discuss the message.

    I suggest that students at WU St. Louis in women’s studies be required to read The Power of the Positive Woman by Mrs. Schlafly.

    Protesting this honor, is this what AAUW is really all about?

  3. Avatar Flora Gray says:

    The following information has been pulled from the “No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly” Facebook group. Personal e-mail addresses have been removed for privacy reasons.


    Subject: Protest Details

    Dear Friends,

    Thank you so much for all of your hard work so far. To keep you updated, Dan, Jeremy, and I had a meeting with Chancellor Wrighton at which he definitely listened to our concerns. As of the time I am sending this, we have not heard an official response from the university as to whether or not Phyllis Schlafly will still be awarded an honorary doctorate at commencement. While we still want to expect that this decision will be overturned, we need to plan for the worst case scenario.

    This protest is about protesting Schlafly receiving this honorary doctorate, not protesting Schlafly’s views or her right to speak. We believe that her work is not worthy of an honor and that her tactics are anti-intellectual and against the mission of this institution.


    Here are the details of the official protest at commencement. Below that are ways to get involved before commencement or the day of commencement if you are not attending.

    1) We will be distributing WHITE ARMBANDS and SHEETS OF INFORMATION about our protest to anyone who is attending. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and invited guests are encouraged to wear these armbands to stand in solidarity against Schlafly receiving this degree.

    2) When Schlafly is announced to receive her honorary degree, we will SILENTLY turn our backs. We believe that this silent protest, coupled with the wearing of armbands, is a unified response that can involve many people. We also do not want to make noise because we want vocalizing to be reserved for the other recipients of honorary doctorates and we want to show that we do NOT recognize this honorary degree and are therefore not calling attention to it.


    E-mail noschlaflydegree@gmail.com to get more information and to sign-up for the following tasks.

    Before commencement…

    1) Cut out armbands with us. We are trying to make 10,000 white armbands. We have the materials, but we need your help. Again, e-mail us if you want to help out. we will be setting up times in the Gargoyle to do this starting tomorrow morning.

    2) Help out with flyers. […]

    3) Spread the word and let people know that we are protesting Schlafly receiving this honorary doctorate and that her views and “accomplishments” are inconsistent with university policy.

    On the day of commencement…

    1) Participate in the protest at graduation and let people know what we’re doing to protest so we can have a coordinated response. Keep writing and calling and encourage others to write people and to participate in the protest at commencement.

    2) Hand out information and armbands at graduation. If you’re attending, get information and armbands to hand out within your school. If you’re not graduating or participating in graduation, pass out information to everyone attending outside of the quad at various assembly points. E-mail […] our noschlaflydegree@gmail.com account to get involved with picking up sheets and passing and

    If you are not part of the university community…

    You are free to help us cut armbands, contact media, and send e-mail responses, but we would ask that you let us keep our graduation a solemn, community occasion on commencement day. There is only ONE degree that we are protesting–that of Phyllis Schlafly. There are many other people who are being honored at this graduation (and their families and guests from all over the world) who deserve to have a respectful ceremony. You are free to protest on the sidewalks outside of the university. If you want more information, feel free to call Police Chief Donald Strom at (314) 935-5514.

    Any questions or if you want to sign up to help, e-mail NOschlaflydegree@gmail.com.

    Thank you for everything,

    Lauren, Dan, and Jeremy on behalf of the Coalition for a Responsible Washington University

  4. Avatar Flora Gray says:

    Just heard from a friend that is a member of the Facebook group. She says that a recent post there encourages students at Wash U. — and others in the community I would think — to join a protest today (Tuesday) in front of the Chancellor’s house at 1pm central time.

  5. Avatar Betty Sulfridge says:

    One reaction students could take in protest of having Mrs. Schlafly honored would be to request transcripts to be sent to other Universities as they seek to transfer to a University that respects women. It is a high price to pay, but who could be proud of graduating from such a sexist institution?

  6. Avatar Flora Gray says:

    I’ve been following the discussion on The G Spot at http://thegspot.typepad.com/blog/2008/05/washington-u-a.html. It includes a couple of suggestions for putting pressure on Wash U to rescind the offer. Otherwise, you might contact the Women and Gender Studies program for more information.

  7. Avatar Janet Nortrom says:

    Depressing, how could this happen,? They should resend the offer. She has been so against women all her life, stopped the ERA from happening in our country, women did do not have equity.
    Janet Nortrom

  8. Avatar Mike Murphy says:

    We now have learned, courtesy of a letter to the WU Chancellor by the five student members of the Board of Trustees, that the balloting process was anything but open or unanimous. Trustees were given a sanitized version of Schlafly’s biography and student objections were shouted down in the meeting.

    Call on chancellor Mark Wrighton to retract his false statement to the contrary and rescind Ms. Schlafly’s invitation to receive an honorary degree at my alma mater.


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