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Director of Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership Dead at 69

IWL Director Since 2011, Alison Bernstein Led Efforts to Endow Steinem Chair
Alison Bernstein
Alison R. Bernstein Rutgers University

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Institute for Women's Leadership (IWL) Director Alison R. Bernstein died of cancer on June 30 at age 69, the IWL announced on their website Wednesday.

In addition to taking on the role of Institute Director in 2011, Bernstein was a Professor of History and Women's & Gender Studies at Rutgers. 

A four-time author and co-author, Bernstein also penned and edited "Junctures in Women's Leadership," a collection of eight books which will be published by Rutgers University Press.  

“She won many battles: for gender equality, humanity in the arts, truth in history, and human rights. She lost the one against cancer,” a death notice in The New York Times read. 

Born on June 8, 1947, Bernstein graduated from Vassar College and later received an M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University.

She joined Ford Foundation as a program officer in 1982 and previously served as their vice president of education, creativity, and free expression. According to their website, the Foundation's mission since 1936 has been to “reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.” 

Shortly after leaving the Ford Foundation in 2011, she was a program executive and senior board member for The News Literacy Project (NLP). 

“We are heartbroken,” NLP President Alan Miller commented in a June 5 press release. “Alison was an early champion of news literacy, an invaluable board member, and a smart, gracious and thoughtful friend.”  

Within the last year of her life, she spearheaded efforts to create and endow the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University and Gloria Steinem Media Mentoring Program (GSMMP), which connects a recent alumna to an established media professional for nine months.  

As of early January 2016, organizers had raised more than $3.5 million in funding toward the Chair.  She expressed to the Daily Record that her goal was to have the Chair fully endowed  by Steinem's 82nd birthday in March.

“It was an idea I had after noticing Gloria Steinem won the Presidential Medal of Freedom," she said. "I realized there had never been a chair anywhere in the U.S. dedicated to the legacy of this extraordinary feminist icon who had just turned 80."

“Those of us who worked with Alison will cherish our time together and recall with a smile her larger than life presence, her keen intelligence, her love of the arts, and her laughter,” the IWL said. “We are so grateful for her leadership and her contributions to women's education here and throughout the world.” 

Though  a memorial service is in the works, Bernstein requested before her death that those wishing to pay homage to her do so in the form of a charitable gift to the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair, which can be done on the Rutgers website.

The IWL also directed that checks can be made out to: Rutgers University Foundation, noting the gift is for the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair, c/o Lisa Hetfield, Institute for Women’s Leadership, 162 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick NJ, 08901.