SMU Women’s Symposium celebrates 50 years, looks to the future Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lilly Ledbetter
Equal-pay activist Lilly Ledbetter will give the keynote speech at SMU’s 50th annual Women’s Symposium Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

The SMU Women’s Symposium will examine women’s progress through the last 50 years as part of its own golden anniversary celebration on Wednesday, March 4, 2015,

More than 600 attendees are expected to gather at the Symposium, created in 1966 as part of the University’s commemoration of its 50th anniversary. Now the longest running event of its kind, the student-led symposium has challenged, changed and broadened women’s perspectives on campus and in the community.

Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and an advocate for gender wage equality, will present at noon a keynote address about her 10-year battle for pay equality at Goodyear Tire and Rubber.

“Lilly Ledbetter represents women using their voices to create change,” says Karen Click, director of SMU’s Women and LBGT Center. “We’ve been inspired by that for 50 years and hope that we continue, as women, to examine our voices and use them.”

Past speakers have included Hillary Clinton, Maya Angelou, Margaret Mead, Marlee Matlin, Patricia Ireland and Eleanor Clift.

Women's Symposium 2015“For me, Women’s Symposium was a unique opportunity for women to come together to discuss issues in a supportive environment,” says Meg Wuebbels Leal, a Phoenix attorney and government relations specialist who was involved with SMU Women’s Symposium as a student in the late 1980s. “It serves as a great example to young college-age women of how to network and support one another.”

The 2015 symposium will feature a community resource fair, book signing and community awards reception and dinner where Merriott Terry, executive director of IGNITE Texas, will receive the Gail Reese Ward Excellence in Mentoring Award.

The Profiles in Leadership Award will be presented to Roberta Berger, licensed professional counselor and psychologist; Ashley Elsey, founder and owner of Minerva Consulting; Pam Gerbber, executive director, Entrepreneurs for North Texas; Liz Cedillo-Pereira, attorney and founding partner of Cedillo-Pereira and Associates; and Nellie Tafalla, community activist.

The symposium is open to the public and will take place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

Written by Nancy George

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Marlee Matlin to give keynote at 2012 SMU Women’s Symposium

Marlee MatlinAward-winning actress, author and activist Marlee Matlin will give the Emmie V. Baine Lecture at SMU’s 47th annual Women’s Symposium Wednesday, March 7, 2012. The event is the longest continuously running program of its kind in the country.

The 2012 theme is “Making the Leap: Women as Agents of Change” – a concept exemplified by the keynote speaker, says Karen Click, director of the SMU Women’s Center for Gender and Pride Initiatives. “Marlee Matlin has been an amazing change agent for Deaf advocacy. She is a very talented actor and author who has set her goals high and worked to achieve them,” Click says.

In 1986, at age 21, Matlin became the youngest woman and the only Deaf person to win an Academy Award for best actress when she took home an Oscar for Children of a Lesser God, for which she also won a Golden Globe. Subsequently, she earned two more Golden Globe nominations for the TV series Reasonable Doubts. She has received 5 Emmy Award nominations for her appearances in series including SeinfeldPicket FencesThe West WingThe L Word, Desperate HousewivesThe Practice and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

As runner-up in the 2011 season of The Celebrity Apprentice, Matlin raised in a single episode a record-setting $986,000 for her charity of choice, The Starkey Hearing Foundation. (Series star Donald Trump kicked in $14,000 of his own to make the contribution an even $1 million.) In addition, she competed on Dancing with the Stars in 2008. Her autobiography, I’ll Scream Later, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2009 – the same year in which she received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Matlin has served as an advocate for the Deaf and for persons with disabilities in general, as well as for LGBT issues. She is a tireless proponent for the expansion of closed captioning in all media.

The Symposium will examine all aspects of change, Click says. “How do we start to change? How do we feel about change? How does one person make a change in the world? We will even be looking at the literal and physical changes that women go through,” she says.

The Symposium’s evening program will honor the recipients of the 2012 Profiles in Leadership Awards. This year’s honorees include:

  • Rabbi Nancy Kasten, community advocate
  • Jill Johnson, board chair, Dallas County Historical Foundation
  • Courtney Underwood, sexual assault advocate
  • The Hon. Carolyn Wright, Chief Justice, 5th District Court of Appeals
  • Abby Williams, philanthropist

In addition, the Symposium will honor Cheryl Mayo, executive director of the West Dallas Community Center, with the Gail Reese Ward Excellence in Mentoring Award for “especially significant contributions as a mentor to girls and women.”

Symposium participants range from high school and college students to new career women to seasoned professionals, Click says. Additionally, SMU reserves 20 spaces each year for clients of local violence shelters. “Our hope is that all of these individuals learn that whatever age, status or experience, we can all learn from each other,” Click says.

“I also hope that our SMU students are motivated to see the world around them and look for opportunities to change it for the better. I hope we all realize the power that is held when people find a common goal.”

Early registration is open through Wednesday, Feb. 29. Limited seating may be available at the door, depending on preregistration numbers. Register online at, or download an SMU faculty-staff registration form (PDF format). For more information, contact Karen Click, 214-768-4796.

> Visit the SMU Women’s Symposium homepage