Interviewee: Laurie Steiner
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Laurie Steiner was a doctoral student working in early childhood education at the University of Houston. She was from Alabama and believed growing up in the South exposed her to racial discrimination and anti-Semitism. Interview includes discussion of: Steiner’s support for the planks of the IWY; her appreciation that she can participate in the conference; her belief that delegations from Mississippi and Alabama do not represent the diversity of those states; and Steiner’s experience with sexism and racial discrimination in higher education.
Marie Heyda: Saturday afternoon, 2 o’clock.
Laurie Steiner: The fact that we have to have a conference, the fact that we have to have a tremendous…
MH: Would you give your name first, and your status?
LS: My name is Laurie Steiner and I’m a doctoral student working in the early childhood department in the University of Houston.
The fact that we had to get together, as an international body of women, and we’re not asking for anything special at all, we’re just asking for rights that should be ours anyway. Just the fact that Jean Stapleton said we’re not asking for any special privileges. And yet we have to get together with this much force, and this much intensity, just to come to a baseline of being where we should have been from the very beginning.
MH: And do you think that this is a great historical breakthrough?
LS: I definitely do. I hope that the rest of the convention continues with the organization that it’s had and with the unity and the feeling of sisterhood. It’s a beautiful thing to get this many women together feeling so good about themselves, feeling so good about each other. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m very glad I get to participate in it.
MH: What did you think about the attitude taken toward the Mississippi delegation?
LS: Well, I’m from Alabama, and I’m used to racial discrimination. I’m used to antisemitism. The South has just got a lot of growing to do. It doesn’t surprise me at all that that kind of thing would come from the South. It’s very upsetting, it’s very shocking, it’s very upsetting to me that women can let themselves be so manipulated and so controlled by men.
MH: Is it true that 35 percent of Mississippi is black women?
LS: Yes, it sure is. The 35 percent – it’s not black women, it’s blacks. It was not adequately represented. In Alabama we have the same situation, because they were supposed to have a racial, a religious coverage or representation of the population, and by the time they had their delegates and their alternate delegates they didn’t have it. So, by the time they got the delegates-at-large they had to take one from this ethnic group, one from this religious group, just so they would have a wide spread of diversity.
MH: And the alternates may never get to the convention.
LS: Right. So it’s a very sad situation.
MH: Do you notice any discrimination against women at the Houston university?
LS: Yes, because most of the high positions in the administration are held by men. I happen to be very lucky. The dean of the education department is a woman. That’s very rare, a very rare situation. My advisor, who’s a PhD, is a woman. And she’s here today. She might be very interesting to interview. Her name is Dr. Ida Stewart. And it’s wonderful to be working with a woman who cares about women and is concerned about women. I’m very happy working under her in that kind of situation.
MH: From what you’ve heard, other students have felt discrimination in departments they try to enter? They’re made to feel, I suppose, that those were closed to women?
LS: There’s discrimination, there’s not a whole lot – I’m a fellowship student, I make a very small salary. If somebody violates my rights there’s not a whole lot I can do in my position. If I do, you know, I’ll lose my status as a fellowship student. They don’t have to hire me again. So I have to pretty much stay to the rules. I work at the diagnostic learning center on campus, that’s how I fulfill my fellowship. I sometimes do confront sexism, or I seem to be very racially discriminatory [sic], and it’s hard for me to accept it. It’s hard for me to do anything about it, though. If I do my job is in jeopardy. It’s a very scary feeling.
MH: So hopefully this will be productive for something good. Is there anything else you’d like to say? Okay.
End of Interview