When Allison Berger ’18 realized that right-of-center women did not have a space of their own on campus, she decided to create one herself. On April 16, the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Undergraduate Student Government approved the creation of a new right-of-center women’s organization led by Berger.
In an interview, Berger explained the function of the new chapter of the Network of Enlightened Women or NeW, will be to provide community and space for open dialogue among right of center women at the University. Berger is currently listed as the group’s president, and Caroline Pritt ’20 is listed as treasurer, according to ODUS’s website.
Berger is an Editorial Board member.
“Here at Princeton, there are not as many opportunities for women to have those close bonds unless, let’s say, you’re in a sorority or a performing arts group,” Berger said.
Berger gained inspiration to start a right of center women’s group after meeting Karin Agness, the founder of the Network of Enlightened Women, during her freshman year at Princeton.
Started at the University of Virginia in 2004 as a book club, NeW works to empower conservative women at American colleges and universities, and has active chapters at more than 30 campuses, including Harvard, Cornell, and Penn, according to the organization’s website. The national organization seeks to “expand intellectual diversity at universities,” an idea whose seed comes from the original UVA book club that read books often left off of class syllabi.
At the University, groups like College Republicans, Whig-Clio, the Princeton Tory, the Anscombe Society, and the Princeton Libertarians all provide spaces for conservative dialogue, but Berger said she wanted to bring together female members from these groups by creating a space specifically for women.
She explained that she wants to show people that right of center women and their beliefs have a place within the University.
“Having this group, I think, is important and useful to demonstrate to people that this viewpoint does exist on campus,” Berger said.
When asked to describe the group’s values, Berger said that the group is not meant to be representative of all conservative women’s opinions but instead is an opportunity for right of center women to share and express their beliefs.
“We really want this to be open to any woman who doesn’t fit a particular heterodoxy that they may feel exists from other groups,” said Berger. “If you feel like you align with this, you can come.”
Berger said that one event that motivated her creation of an all-women’s organization happened as part of her work on the Editorial Board for the ‘Prince.’ After the publication of an editorial titled “Yes all Women’s Center” was published in response to the Women*s Center’s fall 2016 programming, the representation of female editorial board members was called into question in Facebook comments.
Berger explained how a male student commented that even though the board consisted of six women and seven men, and that even though the article was pitched and written by women board members, opinions voiced in the op-ed must have come from male board members.
In the interview, Berger referenced the male student’s specific comment, saying he commented that, “sometimes even when there appears to be gender parity, the men in the room are still able to center their opinions on the women, so there may appear to be gender parity, but the women are really not having their opinions.”
Berger said this response was flawed and disrespectful to women’s voices.
“I think it was really disappointing to see that those male students who disagreed with the content of the piece would have rather seen women be in a position of disempowerment and not have come up with those ideas on their own,” said Berger.
Max Parsons ’20, treasurer of the College Republicans, said the formation of Berger’s organization is a continuation of what he described as the University's typically respectful and welcoming attitude towards different political views.
“I think Princeton is a fantastic place where there is group and space for all kinds of opinions,” said Parsons.
Parsons referenced recent campus speakers Rick Santorum and Ryan Anderson ’04, explaining how, even though their conservative values were likely at odds with much of campus, the University community greeted them with respect. However, Parsons said there was strong backlash against Santorum online, including a few posts on the University meme Facebook page.
Berger emphasized that her chapter of NeW would focus on empowering female conservative voices and giving them a space to discuss their beliefs.
When asked about recent controversial rhetoric from political candidates, Berger said she would rather not focus on negative ideas that can portray women as victims.
“We are really just looking to empower women and focus on the positive things that we can do, rather than being reactionary to something that happened like a year ago and an election is over,” explained Berger.
Berger added that she has not experienced any gender discrimination from her male Republican peers during her time at Princeton.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the elected Republican party is also respectful of women,” said Berger, adding that she doesn’t think the president’s comments are representative of the Republican Party.
Berger said the University’s chapter of NeW will have weekly discussion topics, post articles on the group Facebook page, and bring speakers to campus. She said she hopes speakers will include women in elected office, prominent editorial writers, and labor economists. Due to the sensitive nature of inviting speakers to campus and the group’s new status, she would not give names.
“We are really excited to have the group and really glad to get approval for it from the University,” said Berger.
The University’s chapter of NeW was approved by ODUS and USG on April 16, according to Berger. The group began recruiting new members at activities fairs the week of April 17. Berger also mentioned that NeW plans to hold a few initial meetings this semester and will have regular weekly meetings in the fall.