Conservative alumna Janna Ryan ’91 sparks conversation on campus
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 09:09
Janna Ryan ’91, a Wellesley alumna and the wife of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, has become an increasingly interesting topic of conversation on the Wellesley campus. Most Wellesley students do not support her conservative politics, as Ryan is in agreement with her husband’s anti-abortion, anti-Planned Parenthood and anti-marriage equality platforms.
Despite her husband’s strong viewpoints, many media sources, such as CNN, state that Janna Ryan rarely speaks of her political views and, in an interview, her sister stated that their family was raised to respect all opinions.
Janna Little Ryan grew up in rural Oklahoma, and later made the big move to Wellesley College, her mother’s alma mater. Her mother was a founding member of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and the Oklahoma Council of Campaign Compliance and Ethical Standards.
Her grandfather helped form the American Party in 1968 as a far right-wing group; he later ran for Oklahoma governor. Furthering her political upbringing, her first cousin was a Democratic congressman.
Ryan was involved in politics since before her Wellesley career. Like most Wellesley students, Ryan loved to involve herself on campus. She was a member of Tau Zeta Epsilon (TZE) and her former Wellesley roommate has spoken about Ryan’s involvement in Democratic causes during her college years. She majored in Spanish and studied abroad for a semester in Cordoba, Spain in 1990.
After graduating cum laude in 1991, she attended George Washington University Law School, and later worked on Capitol Hill as a tax attorney and lobbyist. She was a lobbyist for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Novartis and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. She married Paul Ryan in 2000. At this point, Janna Ryan decided to transition from career woman to full-time mom. Interestingly enough, her post-Wellesley path does not differ much from Hillary Clinton’s: Wellesley College, law school and wife of a well-known politician.
Both Ryan and Secretary Clinton—though married to high profile men—are strong, independent women who are just as educated as their husbands. Ryan is at the beginning of a career that is very similar in education and potential to Hillary’s highly successful and celebrated career. The years to come will show if Ryan is destined to continue on a similar path as her older Wellesley sister, Secretary Clinton. So far, their career paths are only differentiated in the Wellesley community’s mind by party lines.
Janna Ryan’s political views should not discredit her as a person, a politician or a Wellesley alumna. In her speech at Convocation this year, President Kim Bottomly spoke eloquently about the necessity of dialogue. She believes that in this election season, Wellesley students need to listen to each other’s opinions, especially when they differ. President Bottomly’s speech evokes Wellesley’s long-held ideals.
The College’s mission and value statement upholds, “There is no greater benefit to one’s intellectual and social development—and to the vitality of an academic community—than the forthright engagement with and exploration of unfamiliar viewpoints and experiences. Wellesley encourages students to try on new ideas, try out new courses of action, and interact authentically with others whose beliefs or choices challenge their own.”
The key words here are “unfamiliar viewpoints.” Should Janna Ryan be dismissed by Wellesley as a politician because the majority of Wellesley students oppose her husband’s political views? Isn’t that going against one of the College’s core values of understanding difference and trying on new ideas?
Janna Ryan can be acknowledged as a strong Wellesley woman despite differing from progressive, liberal politician alumnae. Though her husband is currently a main figure in the American media, Ryan should not be compared to him. She should be looked at as someone who can be celebrated as a successful Wellesley woman who has the potential to begin an accomplished career. It is entirely acceptable for Wellesley students to disagree with Ryan and her husband’s politics, but it is not okay for accepting, tolerant, intelligent Wellesley women to disregard Janna Ryan as a political figure and an independently accomplished alumna.
Prospective students are attracted to Wellesley because of the idea that they can come to campus and be whoever they want to be. Students are encouraged to be different and pushed to think outside of the box in a place where diversity is embraced. Indeed, Wellesley College promotes diversity of religion, culture, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, calling into question why diversity of political views is such an issue on this otherwise accepting campus.
Wellesley can embrace this break from the trend of liberal women as a way for the College to prove its fantastic diversity. Diversity prompts debate, conversation and understanding, just as President Bottomly said. Wellesley now has strong political figures on both sides of the spectrum, proving to America and the world that Wellesley is a place where difference can be broken down, where diversity is central and where—despite conflicting political views—a Wellesley alumna is forever bound to this sisterhood of strong powerful women who will.