On Tuesday, March 28, the Oak Student Committee welcomed Lauren Duca to present their spring keynote speech, which focused on the theme of accessible news. Duca, who is a contributing editor at Teen Vogue, rose to fame after publishing an article called “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America.” She subsequently appeared on Tucker Carlson’s conservative Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight to defend her position on Trump’s behavior and the statements she made in the article itself. After this highly contentious experience, Duca was praised for her composure and determination while defending her work and beliefs. Elizabeth Bryan ’17, co-chair of the Oak Student Committee along with Sarah Peck ’17, said that the Committee wanted to bring someone to campus who had experience breaking down traditional expectations in their field. “Many of us had seen the viral video of Lauren Duca taking on Tucker Carlson, and thought she would be such an interesting speaker to come and talk about the barriers presented in journalism simply by being a woman.”
Duca’s speech, titled “Thigh-High Politics: The Importance of Accessible News with Lauren Duca,” derives its name from a column Duca has started in the wake of her interview with Carlson. During the TV appearance Carlson claimed that Duca should “stick to the thigh-high boots,” referring to an article she had written for Teen Vogue that focused on Ariana Grande’s latest thigh-high boots. Duca related this experience to the experiences of many young girls who experience invalidation based on their interests, like fashion, makeup, music, or thigh-high boots. Duca stated in her speech that young girls, especially teenagers, are often silenced on political issues because of their more frivolous interests. She said that no matter what a person’s outside interests are, their opinions are still valid. A young woman has the capability to write about thigh high boots and about the behavior of the then–President elect at the same time; interest in one does not preclude intelligence in the other. Duca also addressed other challenges young women face with credibility, especially with the way they dress and sound. “Listening to [Duca] talk about being told she uses vocal fry or talks too fast or doesn’t sound smart was such a powerful experience because so many of the women in the room had, I’m sure, been told the exact same thing. Lauren made it clear that she is not afraid to challenge people’s preconceived notions of her that they make because of her gender or her appearance and left many of us feeling ready to do the same,” Bryan said.
In addition to the issue of young people in politics, Duca discussed the difficulty of her rise to fame and the challenges that faced her as a female journalist. After the publication of her article and her appearance on Carlson’s show, Duca received a lot of recognition, but it also came with a price— she received numerous hate messages, including threats of rape and murder. Duca discussed the difficulty of dealing with these hate messages, especially on a daily basis. Though she said she frequently uses social media to find job opportunities and maintains a strong online presence, she stated that sometimes she needed to just disconnect in order to practice self care.
To many of those in the audience, Duca’s experiences were a lesson in how to navigate the world as an outspoken woman. Grace Yu ’19 said, “Her optimism and confidence in her standpoints are worth learning from because those are the characteristics that allowed her to overcome criticisms related to personal things like gender, political viewpoints, and body image.”
The talk was widely attended and filled nearly every seat in Lovejoy 100. The only catch was, the crowd was overwhelmingly female. While this is understandable given Duca’s status as a feminist role model in the media, it’s also indicative of the people who care about these issues. “It’s understandable because Duca does work in Teen Vogue. Although people of all genders and ages could access her work, the magazine is directed toward young women, so naturally women went to her talk in order to hear her speak about being engaged in politics and how they can also get involved,” said Sarang Yang ’19.
Though Duca’s speech drew Yang’s interest because of Duca’s insights on the “difficulties she faced as an outspoken woman working in political journalism.” However, Yang said the talk left her with unanswered questions. “I wished she had focused her talk on how she was transforming Teen Vogue and her goal in making politics accessible and engaging to young women, an audience that have previously overlooked and underestimated. It would have been helpful for me to understand the process that goes behind making her vision a reality, and what it means to have empowered girls that are interested and involved in politics, as I believe that is an important step in achieving gender equality within American policies and legislature,” Yang stated. Yu also said that the talk sparked ideas that weren’t explored during the talk but that would be interesting to discuss in the future. “Her talk also made me think about how access in the work field would be different for people from different racial and social background. This is something that was not touched upon during the conversation but should definitely be explored,” Yu said.
Though her visit was short, Duca’s speech had a strong impact on those who attended. “Lauren’s visit was phenomenal. We were so lucky to have someone come who was so willing and eager to get to know us and speak about her experiences,” Bryan said. Duca’s keynote speech set the bar ever higher for visiting speakers in the future.