April 29, 2010
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Connie Schultz told her audience that it’s important to remember that Jana Mackey didn’t die.
She didn’t pass away.
She was murdered.
Schultz, a nationally syndicated columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer spoke at the Dole Institute Wednesday night as part of the Jana Mackey Distinguished Lecture Series. Mackey was a former KU law student and a prominent women's rights activist who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in July 2008. During the lecture, Schultz empathized with Mackey and her cause.
"Jana was a feminist from the Midwest. I know how that feels," she said.
Schultz alternated between funny stories and serious issues, keeping the rapt attention of the hundred or so people in attendance.
"Connie's speech was awesome," said Curt Brungard, Mackey's father. "She brings up the serious issue of equality and other issues that women still face in our society."
As Schultz went on to tell stories that she heard from Mackey's parents, she summed up Jana with one sentence: "Don't tell me I can't because then I will."
During the speech, she called the young women of the University to action several times. It seemed that they heard her message loud and clear.
"I thought it was really great because she was so passionate and so articulate," said Kathryn Hoven, a freshman from Chester, N.J. "It showed that you can be assertive and still be respectful."
Q: As a senator's wife, you've had to deal with a lot of gender issues in politics. Do you feel like those political stereotypes are propagated more by the world of politics or the world of the media?
A: By the media and the public. I mean, you have political consultants. You have to let them know early and often that you aren't going to feed the stereotypes. But that really flows from the candidate. If the candidate makes it clear that he doesn't want his campaign to stereotype his spouse, it's going to be more effective. I will say, I can't help but judge an elected official, or any man for that matter, by how he treats his wife. If they are dismissive of them or treat them as invisible, then that affects my opinion of them. But to be honest, I don't see a lot of that on the Hill. I love Sherrod, I'm married to Sherrod. I'm not a Senate wife. I've never given myself that title.
Q: Would you say that there is a community of so-called "Senate wives?" Are you close with any other wives of congressmen?
A: Not many. When I'm in Washington, I tend to be hanging out with other journalists except for when I'm seeing my husband. And I'm not there every week. He comes home every weekend. When I'm in Washington, I have a pretty busy schedule. I'm usually either there to give a talk or to go to some event with Sherrod that they want spouses to be at that's really important, like the Supreme Court dinner, that kind of thing. But there aren't a lot of those. And I don't do the spouse events, which I'm sure is frustrating for some people. I might do the one for Michelle Obama this year. I just don't tend to do that. Part of it is my comfort level as a journalist, and I also just don't identify myself through my marriage.
Q: You have a reputation as a very well-respected advocacy journalist, someone who sticks up for the underdog. Would you say that those values have interacted with your husband and his policies in any way?
A: Well in any healthy marriage, you're going to be affecting each other's opinions in some way. But the reason I fell in love with Sherrod was probably because he's been fighting for the people that I come from his entire career. The people I advocate for, in large part, are the people that I come from. I'm the first in my family to go to college. I'm a working class kid, so the hourly wage-earner issue is huge for me. The union issue looms large also. I'm a feminist, so that issue is big for me. Sherrod and I agree on most things. That said, he never sees a column before I turn it in. We never talk about it until it's been turned in and edited. That's to protect both of us. He's never ever asked me not to write about something.
Q: One unique thing about your columns is that you tend not to use euphemisms or dodge the issue. Why is that?
A: I'm pretty direct, mainly because I feel like we don't talk in euphemisms. I want my columns to read conversationally. I read every column out loud before I turn it in because I want it to sound the way I talk. I want people to feel like they're having a conversation with me. I'm trying to start the conversation, I'm not trying to lecture. I try to close the distance between me and the reader.
Q: How do you maintain an opinion and a stance about something without becoming one of the "extremists" or the talking heads on 24-hour news networks?
A: Well, there will be some who call me that. You can't control how people see you. All you can control is your response. When you start worrying too much about what people think about you, you start changing how you express yourself. And, before you know it, you are no longer authentically you. If you stand for anything, you're going to make enemies. The alternative is to have everyone like you and to stand for nothing. I don't have any interest in that. And, certainly, as a columnist, that's not my job.
More about Connie Schultz
Connie Schultz, a nationally syndicated columnist, writes eloquently on issues related to women's rights, equality, and social justice.
Schultz, a bi-weekly columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Creators Syndicate, won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2005. Her other awards include the Scripps-Howard National Journalism Award, the National Headliners Award, the James Batten Medal, and the Robert F. Kennedy Award for social-justice reporting. She is contributor to the online political blog, The Huffington Post. She is also the author of two books, ...And His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman and 'Life Happens...And Other Unavoidable Truths.