Jennifer Baumgardner ’92 speaks on ecology of justice

Carolyn Schultz

Lawrence welcomed Jennifer Baumgardner, class of 1992, back to campus Tuesday, May 19, to give an address titled “Climate Change We Can Live With: The Ecology of Justice” at the Honors Convocation.
Baumgardner, a prominent feminist author, activist and documentary filmmaker, tailored her address to Lawrence’s sustainability convocation series, speaking on the importance of social and political sustainability.
Baumgardner emphasized the role a Lawrence education played in the development of her theory on social justice. “My expectations we raised overnight,” she said in her speech.
Baumgardner came to Lawrence in 1988, a year that marked the introduction of Lawrence’s gender studies department. Baumgardner began reading works of second-wave feminist writers in Ms. magazine. These writers were from her mother’s generation, but Baumgardner was inspired and wanted to emulate their activism.
In college, Baumgardner was introduced to a new term, “rape culture,” when the Sig Eps were suspended for planning a “Rape a Theta” party.
Professors discussed these new terms and debates in class. In this way, Baumgardner became part of a new dialogue that would become the third wave of feminism, a movement for personal empowerment and activism. There was now language to describe the experience.
“Rape was visible,” said Baumgardner. “We had changed the conversation. It’s something that we really need to acknowledge so we know where to go next.”
“Now, we’re in a place of great potential for change,” said Baumgardner, adding, “It’s an exciting time for social justice, but it’s important to realize the right tools and strategies” to achieve this justice. According to Baumgardner, these tools are listening and sensitivity.
Baumgardner abandoned her old approach to activism, which she defined as a “cataclysmic” approach, in favor of strategies with which she could move an issue forward.
In her speech, Baumgardner compared dialogue and activism to global warming. She described her metaphorical version of global warming as people’s anger at those with opinions different from theirs, causing ineffective communication. “We all contribute to ‘global warming’ problems,” said Baumgardner.
She advised people to turn the question, “What can be done?” back on themselves, asking instead, “What can I do?”
“I told myself I did have privilege,” said Baumgardner. “Everything I had in terms of privilege could be used in service of social justice.”
Baumgardner ended her address by stressing to the current generation of Lawrence students that she does not believe they are apathetic. She said that the college-age generation needs only to figure out what it needs. She finished with a new equation for activism: “Your generation + warmth (understanding and communication) = light (more light).”
Baumgardner is the creator of two campaign projects to encourage women to talk about their experiences with abortion and rape. She is also the co-founder of Soapbox: Speakers Who Speak Out Inc., a feminist speakers bureau based in New York City.
In 2007, Lawrence recognized Baumgardner with the Nathan M. Pusey Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award. Baumgardner spoke about her activism, saying, “I’m not a young feminist, not the next generation, but I still have a role to play.”
Baumgardner graduated from Lawrence in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to serve for five years as the editor of Ms. magazine, the youngest editor in that publication’s history.
After leaving Ms. magazine in 1997, Baumgardner contributed pieces to many publications including Harper’s, The Nation., Glamour, Redbook and Elle. She has written four books, two co-authored with Amy Richards, her former colleague at Ms.