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Karin Agness promotes conservative women’s groups at colleges

Network of Enlightened Women founder promotes debate, open-mindedness

Karin Agness, a 2009 Law School graduate and founder of the Network of enlightened Women, spoke Friday evening as the fifth speaker in the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society’s annual speaker series. She spoke about the importance of conservative women’s groups on college campuses.

Agness founded NeW, the nation’s premier organization for conservative university women, as a book club at the University in 2004 when she, a University student at the time, was disappointed in the lack of conservative women’s groups on Grounds.

Today, there are more than 20 NeW chapters on college campuses nationwide in addition to alumni chapters and young professional chapters.

Agness said women on college campuses 10 years ago would were faced with several groups pushing a liberal agenda, and the continual formation of NeW chapters demonstrates women still face those same issues today, she said.

“It’s too often that the only strong women voices that young women are exposed to are those of liberals,” Agness said. “Talks like mine give students the ability to learn about the benefits of right-wing beliefs.”

Liberal groups have been the voice of women’s needs for so long, Agness said, that when rightist groups start to take a position, they feel threatened. She encouraged conservative women to get engaged on their campuses and take a stand.

“When creating NeW, we were trying to provide a home and an education for conservative women,” Agness said. “Our goal was and still is to create a community of conservative women on campus.”

Jefferson Society vice president Hannah Bondurant, a fourth-year College student, organized the event. She said it is important to get female speakers to address college students because women’s issues are not addressed frequently enough.

“Whether you agree with what she is saying or not, anything that challenges or confirms your viewpoint makes you reaffirm your stance,” Bondurant said. “It reaffirms that what you believe is what you believe for a reason. Women’s rights is a dialogue we need to be having and groups like NeW encourage that dialogue.”

Third-year College student Mary Hickok, current president of the University's NeW chapter, which co-sponsored the event, said she became involved in the program about a year ago.

“So much of the debate of gender politics happens online, [so] it is important to have a place where we can engage each other,” Hickok said. “We try to think critically about how women are affected by policy choices, and often that means asking a lot of questions before we are satisfied.”

Though NeW currently only has about 20 members at the University, Hickok said they are trying to expand.

“NeW is at its core a book club, but we also read articles and essays," Hickock said in an email. "We want to keep our discussions interesting and relevant to issues on the minds of college women.”

Agness encouraged students to look beyond the face value of legislation being proposed because often the secondary effects of those policies end up hurting many people.

“Have arguments now in college and put yourself in uncomfortable conversation, so you will know how to do it later,” Agness said. “You will fail and lose some arguments, but you will learn [in the process].”

Agness said, too often, women’s success is measured solely in comparison to men’s.

“Write your own scorecard,” Agness said. “Some women want to work full time, some want to work part-time and others want to stay home, but that doesn’t mean their success is any less.”

NeW celebrated its 10th anniversary this past Monday.

“To start off the next 10 years, we are launching a new set of programs to provide new entry points for women to become involved in NeW and to provide ways for women already involved to deepen their involvement,” Agness said. “It was a great first decade and we are poised to have a bigger impact over the next 10 years.”