By: Contributor Catherine Olohan ’19
On Wednesday, students grabbing lunch at the Pryzbyla Center at the Catholic University of America were greeted with a hot pink display at one of the tables. A poster stated the name of the organization: NeW, Network of Enlightened Women. It’s a new club on campus and one that has attracted a lot of attention.
“People would come up to us and be like oh, a feminist group,” co-founder Sophie Czerniecki said. “And we’d be like, not in the way you’re thinking.”
The double politics and pre-law major expressed her frustration with Michelle Obama’s statement in September that women who voted against Hillary Clinton “voted against their own voice.” Twenty girls at the Catholic University of America are joining together to say that this isn’t true.
Brianna Howard, president of the CUA NeW chapter, describes the club as a
“conservative female group working on empowering and enlightening women on politics.”
The club aims to end the belief that feminism is a partisan issue. Both Howard and Czerniecki like the idea of NeW because it is a club for women that doesn’t require that members agree with liberal stances. Feminism, to Howard, is an initially positive concept that has been “turned into something negative, and that creates a stereotype.”
Czerniecki said that she’s concerned that feminism as a strictly liberal concept is the cause for much of the blocked legislation for women’s issues. NeW aims to keep conservative women informed and up to date on politics, encourage the exchange of ideas, and educate them on their rights. This includes knowing when these rights aren’t being respected, particularly in the areas of free speech and the wage gap.
Senior Emma Hurst, NeW communications vice president said that these are areas that conservative women generally aren’t allowed to speak in. She said that she’s been verbally assaulted for her conservative principles, and likes NeW because it’s a club that builds conservative women up instead.
“Conservative women are too often put down for their conservative principles in modern feminism. Feminism preaches inclusivity, yet only if you believe a certain way,” she said.
CUA is not the only university where conservative women are joining together in support of feminism. NeW is a nationwide organization spread across over 40 college campuses, including D.C. schools like Georgetown and American University. Karen Agness Lips, a University of Virginia graduate, started the club as a student in 2004 when her request for a conservative women’s group was rejected with laughter. NeW now hosts several national events and has a board that includes names such as presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. It recently received large media attention from its social media #shesconservative campaign featuring chapter members posting pictures wearing their white NeW t-shirts with the statement: THIS IS WHAT A CONSERVATIVE LOOKS LIKE written in hot pink, all capital letters across the front.
Howard, a senior politics and theology major from Pennsylvania, is experienced in campus leadership. She’s the chairwoman of the CUA College Republicans as well as president of the Student Government Association.
Club co-founder Czerniecki, however, is relatively new to the game. She’s a sophomore politics major from New Jersey, currently on the pre-law track and serving as the treasurer for the Pre-Law Society. She traces her conservative views back to her upbringing. Her family emigrated from Poland and her father, as the son of a single mother, had to pay his way through both high school and college. His mother worked at a factory and he worked at a restaurant every night after school until one in the morning, as well as in the evening on weekends.
“So I’ve seen how a family can emigrate, become legal, and then go through the process… They’re the true definition of people who made it work because they wanted to live in America. That’s where a lot of my conservative views stem from because I’m not comfortable handing over welfare to people because they want to fill out one job application a week. I’m very willing to help people who are willing to help themselves,” Czerniecki said.
This is the fourth new club to arise on CUA’s campus specifically for women, but the first one specifically for conservative women. The club emphasizes professional and intellectual development. One recent event for executive board members included a discussion on how to talk to people whose views are extremely opposed to your own. Meetings generally follow the original concept of a book club.
“I like to call it soft politics,” Czerniecki said. “Let’s eat cupcakes and talk about what Paul Ryan said.”
Currently, the club is also working on a service project for the national organization’s ConSERVative month. For the CUA chapter, this theme of service will also be extended into December when club members will be writing letters to soldiers to thank them for their service and wish them a “Merry Christmas”.
This is not all the founders have planned. Club meetings will also include guest speakers sponsored by the national organization. On December 6th, Kendra Scott will be hosting the organization for a happy hour with discounted merchandise, drinks, and snacks. A yearly membership to the organization costs $5 and gives chapter members access to three informational brunches where they can listen in on more professional development talks and discussions, as well as network with fellow NeW members.
The founders are looking forward to the upcoming year which includes potential trips to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the NeW National Conference, as well as further speakers. They also hope to create a network of internship opportunities for members seriously interested in getting into the political realm.
“I want to make sure the glass ceiling is broken, I want to run for president someday, I am definitely all for power of women, and making sure there’s not a wage gap… The fact that it’s 2017 and we still have to worry about a wage gap is ridiculous,” Czerniecki said.
“Very often, people think that if you’re conservative, you’re anti women, but that’s totally not the case and I think that NeW definitely stresses that and works to educate people on that.”