ot just in light of the upcoming presidential election, but every day, Karin Lips ’09 wants young women on college campuses to know that the left hasn’t cornered the market on female empowerment, and that conservatives are not to be discounted.
To that end, Lips (née Agness) started the Network of enlightened Women, or NeW, in 2004 as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Her activism began after a Washington, D.C., internship with U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, the long-serving Republican who represented her home state of Indiana.
“During that experience I was surrounded by a lot of women who cared about policy and the world of ideas, and who brought a conservative perspective to the discussion,” she said. “When I went back to UVA, I sought out an environment like the one I had found in D.C.”
The American studies major soon realized that she needed to fill a void. She began the group as a book club where women could discuss — free of judgment — content that wasn’t on their classroom syllabi.
Despite initial ridicule, she said, the idea caught on. A second NeW group formed at William & Mary within six months. By the time she reached the Law School in 2006, Lips held the organization’s first national conference in D.C., adding chapters on campuses in California, New Jersey and Texas that year.
During that experience I was surrounded by a lot of women who cared about policy and the world of ideas, and who brought a conservative perspective to the discussion.
Now, with a presence at dozens of colleges across the U.S., the nonprofit organization offers diverse programming meant to encourage the next generation of women “to be leaders for the cause of freedom,” as she puts it.
“In the 15 years since our founding, we’ve transformed into a women’s leadership organization that provides policy and professional development programming,” Lips said. “Students still discuss conservative ideas, bringing much-needed intellectual diversity to campus and the women’s movement. We also serve as a voice in national conversations about women and policy.”
Lips promotes a new brand of feminism, “opportunity feminism,” which she says seeks to maximize freedom for women so they can build the lives they want to build.
As she noted in a recent op-ed for The Detroit News commenting on the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, women exceed men in the electorate by about 10 million registered voters and have voted in greater numbers than men in each presidential election since 1964. She said it’s inappropriate to assume all women will, or should, vote the same way.
“To honor the centennial of women gaining the right to vote, take a moment and thank a female friend who you know votes differently than you,” she wrote. “Or at least don’t assume the worst of her.”
While the 501(c)(3) organization can’t advocate for specific candidates, NeW makes its presence known at colleges, often with members wearing pink T-shirts that read, “This is what a conservative looks like.”
“We shouldn’t underestimate the power of conservative women in this country,” Lips said. “I expect conservative women to play a big role in the 2020 election.”
Lips is the editor of the book “She’s Conservative: Stories of Trials and Triumphs on America’s College Campuses.” As president of NeW, she frequently provides commentary in major media outlets such as CNN, Forbes, The Washington Post, Fox News and The Atlantic. Previously, she practiced law at Wiley Rein and served as a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics.