Leader in feminism hosts rally on campus

Central Florida Future

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/leader-in-feminism-hosts-rally-on-campus-1.2781516#tabs_article_comments_tab1

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem made a stop at UCF’s Pegasus Ballroom Friday to lead a discussion on women, politics and the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

The rally, which was sponsored by UCF’s women’s studies program and the National Organization for Women at UCF, brought more than 200 students, faculty and local women’s rights organizations together.

Steinem opened her discussion by encouraging everyone to forget about party labels and to examine the issues that are at stake. For Steinem, that includes equal pay for women.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in an equal position. Though pay equity has been discussed by both presidential candidates, Steinem said she believes both candidates have not realized that “equal pay for female human beings of the United States will be the single greatest, most powerful economic stimulus this country could possibly experience.”

“Just equal pay for comparable work would put $200 billion more into the economy every year,” Steinem said. “We are not going to take that money and put it into a bank account in the Bahamas. We are not going to send it to Switzerland. No, we are much more likely to spend it in a way that creates jobs.”

Steinem also emphasized the importance of another women’s issue: reproductive rights. Though the case for abortion has created an even greater division between partisan lines, with liberals generally for it and many conservatives against it, Steinem believes reproductive freedom defies political ideologies. She said reproductive freedom is just as important for people who do not wish to have an abortion as it is for those who do.

“It means what it says [and] it says the power of the government stops at our skin,” Steinem said.

The issue of reproductive freedom is particularly important to many Florida voters because of a contentious amendment on this year’s ballot: Amendment 6. The measure would ban state tax money from being used for abortions or for health insurance coverage of abortion, except in rare circumstances like rape and incest.

To president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, Jenna Tosh, who also spoke at Friday’s event, the amendment would put women’s health in jeopardy.

“If Amendment 6 passes, it could mean that a pregnant woman who needs access to cancer treatment would be denied health to end her pregnancy even if it’s what her doctor recommends. If Amendment 6 passes, it would leave a woman and her family struggling to figure out how to pay for medical care, even in the case of a severe fetal abnormality. Denying a family help in these cases is unconscionable,” Tosh said.

UCF’s women’s studies director, Maria Santana, said issues like reproductive rights and pay equity make this election crucial for women. However, she fears that young women who lack interest in politics may not exercise their right to vote, risking the gains that Steinem and her contemporaries fought for.

“Today, as young and perhaps single women, they don’t feel the necessity or the urgency, but we see it as an urgency because we understand the political path of change and the political path has ramifications,” Santana said. “It’s important for them to understand what’s happening today, right now, because it will be history.”

Santana remembers the agency created by second-wave feminists like Steinem. She admires that they did not just organize to complain about gender disparities, but that it moved them to action, something she hopes today’s generation picks up.

Steinem’s discussion imbued a similar sense of agency in junior finance and marketing double major Lauren Mulvihill.

“I’ve never been so empowered by hearing someone speak. I’ve never wanted to act out and go out and do something to perpetuate these feelings before,” Mulvihill said.

For senior political science major Paul Thurston, the conversation helped him recognize something about himself.

“As somebody who is obviously a man, I never really classified myself as a feminist, even though I believe in a lot of the same stuff. It’s good to see that maybe I have been this whole time, but I just didn’t know it,” Thurston said.

Steinem has been traveling around the country and the world advocating for women’s rights since the late 1960s. Her visit to UCF was the first of six stops she’s making in Florida this week. She’ll take a trip to St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and Miami to continue her talk on women’s rights issues as related to the 2012 election.


Victim Services holds workshop on sex under the influence

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/victim-services-holds-workshop-on-sex-under-the-influence-1.2773524

In celebration of College Safety Awareness Month, UCF’s Victim Services sponsored a workshop Thursday in the Key West Ballroom that shed light on the dangers of having sex while under the influence.

Stephanie Spies and Michael Freeman of UCF’s Wellness and Health Promotion Services, which trains students on sexual violence prevention and offers workshops on healthy living strategies, informed students of rape myths and offered them useful tools. 

To Freeman, one of the most problematic rape myths is the thought that having sex with someone who is under the influence isn’t rape. But under Florida law, a person who is inebriated is unable to give consent. 

“For us, this issue of consent is absolutely at the center,” Freeman said, the coordinator for violence prevention, HIV testing and STI risk reduction. “One of these rape myths is that, ‘well she’s drinking a lot so let’s go ahead and let her keep drinking,’ but if that’s happening, there’s no way she can give consent.”

According to Freeman, 47 percent of sexual assaults, which includes rape, attempted rape, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse and other sexual activity that one does not agree to, can be prevented if bystanders intercede. 

“To our 18-year-old, 90-pound student who has never drunk a day in her life, one drink or Four Lokos or something is probably the end of any abilities to make decisions,” Freeman said. “What I want our young men to do is when they see that, the first thing they think of is ‘what if that were my sister, what would I do? What would I want for her?’ And what I want the young women to do is think, ‘what if that were my sister, or me? What would I want them to do?’ ”

Though Freeman has advocated for social justice since his teenage years, the notion of bystander intervention particularly hits home because of the rape of his daughter during her freshman year of college.

“She was date raped, and there were people standing over there that did nothing,” Freeman said. “That is what happens in our campuses and that is not acceptable.”

To Freeman, intervening isn’t exclusive to an individual physically stepping into a situation. He believes that just calling 911 and informing them of the circumstances is an effective bystander intervention. 

Victim services’ Senior Victim Advocate Coretta Cotton believed Freeman’s ideas on bystander intervention got students thinking.

“I think it got the students engaged and thinking and talking, and that’s what we want to do: make students aware of what’s out there and how to protect themselves,” Cotton said.

Junior psychology major Lauryn Golemme agreed. 

“He’s very inspirational, it’s good to see that someone has those ideals,” Golemme said. “This was very successful and it was good to see.”

Wellness and Health Promotion Services don’t subscribe to an abstinence-only approach to alcohol; they just want students to drink wisely. 

Spies, the coordinator of campus health promotion, provided students with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) card to help them monitor factors such as sex, weight and hours spent drinking, which all affect one’s BAC. 

To avoid driving or walking home while drunk, she also advised students to utilize KnightLYNX, UCF’s late night bus service that travels throughout the UCF community Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. The trips are free to all UCF students who show their UCF ID Card. If a student’s home is outside the UCF region, Spies suggest they obtain a Safe Ride voucher from the SGA Ticket Center, which provides students with one free cab ride every 61 days.

Successful Women Seminar speaker shares her secrets

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/successful-women-seminar-speaker-shares-her-secrets-1.2767856#.UF9jTaWa_6w.twitter

Dr. Maria Santana’s discussion Tuesday for UCF’s Women’s Research Center’s third Successful Women Seminar was nothing short of colorful.

A crowd of about 50 faculty and students chuckled in the Cape Florida Ballroom as the associate professor and director of UCF’s women’s studies program quipped about motherhood, academia and advocacy. 

According to the director of the Women’s Research Center, Linda Walters, the mission of the series is to “make women faculty successful.”

“We want them to see what women are doing who’ve made it through the academic process of getting tenure and getting promoted,” said Walters. 

But beyond narratives of tenure or tales of her life as a writer and researcher, Dr. Santana offered advice that was welcomed by undergraduates and their instructors.

“You have to take care of yourself; there’s only one of us in the world,” Santana said.

According to Santana, it’s important for individuals to know their limits and to be aware of the challenges they face.

She notes that one of her highest fences to climb over was simply asking for help. 

“[I thought,] if I ask for advice, I look weak, not prepared…I thought I had to do it all,” Santana said. “But that’s not true. There’s no crime in asking for help, or asking for advice.”

Santana fears that if mothers don’t have extra hands to help drive their children home from baseball practices, or scholars don’t have different sets of eyes to scrutinize their research, they’d be spreading themselves too thin to relish life. 

Hoping to ward off such deprivation, Santana shared two of her richest secrets: timing and protecting weekends.

“I sat down with a timer to see how much was [in] an hour one day… an hour is very long,” Santana said. “If we were to set a timer to finish writing that paper for publication, I’m pretty sure [we’d] finish it.”

She also encourages everyone to delight in their weekends by protecting them. She leaves work for the weekdays and brings in memories every weekend with friends, family and her dearest organizations. 

“I want to live; it’s my life, [and] I only have one,” Santana said. 

However, with many students waiting tables to pay for college tuition and instructors working more than one job to meet their monthly bills, Santana understands that protecting weekends may not be practical for some. But she still suggests that everyone give himself or herself an hour a day to do something they’re fond of.

“A whole hour for you…watching a movie, doing your hair, napping, talking to your mom on the phone, having sex,” Santana said. “There’s 24 [of them]. I’m only asking for one.”

Senior psychology and interdisciplinary studies major Latoya Rattery was keen on Santana’s “secrets.”

“I’m going to try the one hour thing,” Rattery said. “With me, I will start something [and then] work on something else, so that was really good. I like her secrets.”

For assistant professor of sociology Amanda Koontz, Santana’s tips were refreshing. 

“It’s true, if you start helping yourself then you can start helping others better, and it’s nice again to have a reminder of that,” Koontz said. 

The Successful Women Seminar Series, which began in the spring, takes place twice a semester. Professor of clinical psychology and director of UCF’s doctoral program in clinical psychology Dr. Deborah C. Beidel will speak for the series’ fourth presentation Oct. 30.

History professor discusses Trayvon Martin case, end of civil rights movement

Central Florida Future

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/history-professor-discusses-trayvon-martin-case-end-of-civil-rights-movement-1.2761556?fb_action_ids=4723551091949&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=.UFcjREkduq8.like&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=246965925417366

Dr. Vibert White offered nods and handshakes as he entered into a crowded room in the Student Union Tuesday for a lecture on the Trayvon Martin case. Students and faculty filled chairs while others stood along the back of the room to hear Dr. White compare how the handling of the case is contributing to the demise of the Civil Rights Movement.

Through a series of slideshows, videos and impassioned narratives, Dr. White compared the civil rights rallies that followed the death of 17-year-old Martin to those that composed U.S. neighborhoods throughout the 1960s.

Trailing his examination, Dr. White, an associate professor inUCF’s history department, found one consequential feature missing from the recent demonstrations in Sanford—momentum.

“I took my class to the rally…[and there were] 200 people in [Allen Chapel], but there were over 2,000 young people outside. They weren’t listening to what Al and Jessie and the newscasters had to say. They wanted momentum,” White said.

But according to Dr. White, they didn’t get that kind of protest. Similar to the peacemakers who interjected themselves in the Civil Rights demonstrations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Sanford had its own peacemakers to teach leaders how to demonstrate.

“They developed the objective, the momentum and the direction of the movement,” White said. “But how can a movement be by the people if it’s being paid for by the oppressors?”

According to Dr. White, this paradigm only leaves room for what he calls a “milk toast” civil rights movement, or one that shuts down the comments made by adamant African-American leaders like Angela Davis and Louis Farrakhan.

“The Al Sharpton you saw [in the 1960s] was a young, fired-up minister-activist…who would take up any cause of plight in the African community,” White said. “That Al Sharpton is not the one that came [to Sanford]. The one that came is the one who works for MSNBC, the one who really is now no more than a spokesperson for the Democratic party, the one who MSNBC just recently made a millionaire. So he speaks on a moderate tone, a conditioned tone.”

This idea of former radical leaders retaining restrained voices appealed to freshman Jennelle Mendes.

“I’m always interested to hear what people have to say about the Trayvon Martin case because there’s always so many different views of it,” the event management major said. “Hearing some things that I haven’t personally thought of before such as Jesse Jackson and how he went from being more radical to simmering down…was nice to hear about.”

Junior psychology major Meghan Bejarano was shocked to hear about the Civil Rights leaders’ newly controlled approaches.

“[Dr. White] viewed them as being conditioned and being a product of capitalism rather than like true leaders,” Bejarano said. “I was surprised to hear about his perspective.”

Equipping students like Bejarano and Mendes with the information needed to examine the social underpinnings of the case and the accompanying protests is particularly why Dr. White led the lecture. 

“I saw that the whole Trayvon Martin case has become a side issue now,” White said. “It is no longer on the front pages of the media, no longer discussed within black circles or white circles. Since there has not been any real resolution, it should be something that we should continue to talk about, debate and analyze because…this is a reflection of our own society and who we are as a people.”


2012 London Olympics Highlights

DC Spotlight Newspaper

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/featured/2012-london-olympics-updates/

Friday’s London Olympics opening ceremony drew in 40.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched Summer Games opening ceremony ever. With fireworks lighting up the sky, the ceremony welcomed the finest athletes from more than 200 countries, and for the first time in history, women were represented on each nation’s team.

Now four days into the 30th Olympic games, Team USA is currently first in the medal count, tied with China. Both nations have collected 17 medals in total. China has nine gold, five silver, and three bronze, while the U.S. has five gold, seven silver, and five bronze. Japan sits in third with one gold, four silver and six bronze.

The U.S. started celebrating early on Saturday, thanks to the men’s archery victory. The team brought in the U.S.’s first medals at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. They took home the silver in a tight final against Italy, losing the gold by only a single point.

Ryan Lochte picked up America’s first gold medal. He shocked the world, and himself, by defeating rival and Maryland-born swimmer Michael Phelps in the Men’s 400m individual medley Saturday. Phelps, who came in fourth place, failed to medal for the first time since the Sydney Games in 2000. The two men will see each other again in the Men’s 200m individual medley.

World champion gymnast Jordyn Wieber failed to qualify for the Olympic all-around finals due to a rule that limits each nation to just two finalists. Wieber, 17, wound up in fourth place overall, but was third behind Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas for the U.S.

Kim Rhode broke records on Sunday, becoming the first American to win individual medals in five straight Olympics. Rhode won the women’s skeet shooting with 99 points– meaning she missed one of 100 shots. Silver-medalist Wei Ning of China was eight points behind Rhode, and Slovakia’s Danka Bartekova, who earned the bronze medal, was nine points off.

American swimmer Dana Vollmer also made history Sunday. Vollmer broke the 100m butterfly world record, finishing in a time of 55.98 seconds. The 24-year-old New York native earned the gold medal despite losing her swimming cap midway through the race.

On Monday, it was the men who were breaking records. American swimmer Matt Grevers took the gold medal for the men’s 100m backstroke, setting an Olympic record of 52.16 seconds. Behind the 27-year-old Illinois native was American Nick Thoman, who came through in 52.92 seconds. Japan’s Ryosuke Irie received the bronze medal with his 52.97-second backstroke.

In other news, patriotism and religious esteem have made its way into the coiffures of this year’s women competitors. Three-time Olympic champion Venus Williams showed up to London with long braids twisted together with red, white, and blue strands. Meanwhile, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, one of Saudi Arabia’s first two female Olympians, said she wouldn’t compete in the judo competition if she wasn’t allowed to wear her hijab. Though judo officials originally refused her request, International Judo Federation spokesman Nicolas Messner said Monday that she would compete.

Top Medal Winners as of 7/30/12
1. China
2. United States
3. Japan
4. Italy
5. France
6. South Korea
7. Russia
8. North Korea
9. Australia
10. Romania

VARC hosts discussion on military transitions

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/varc-hosts-discussion-on-military-transitions-1.2722880

Laurie Reid kicked off her high heels Thursday night setting an intimate and laidback tone to a discussion she led on military life transitions at the UCF’s Veteran Academic Resource Center.

The event was organized by the Camaraderie Foundation, an Orlando-based nonprofit that provides private counseling to service members and their families, but this free educational seminar was particularly important because it piloted the organization’s new Community And Military Nights.

“We hope that this new outreach program can bring families together in a non-stressful and non-pressured event where they can meet other families that have either successfully transitioned or are in the middle of it,” said Tammy Knowles, the organization’s executive director. “We hope to break down the isolation that families feel.”

Reid, who is a Persian Gulf War veteran and licensed marriage and family therapist, was uniquely fit to guide the conversation. 

She engaged the small audience of veterans, service members and their spouses through narrations of her transitional experiences as both a veteran and a wife of a veteran—two distinct roles that Reid believes need considerable support and guidance during the changeover phase. 

According to Reid, a veteran can never be the person they were before their deployment. She believes that problems emerge when the veteran has to convey their changes to their loved ones. 

“You are a changed person, the person that you left behind is a changed person,” Reid said to the crowd. “We now need to reestablish this new person, new personality, new life, new rules and new normalcy, that looks way different than the neighbor next door.”

According to a report by the Defense Department, the military-wide divorce rate hit its peak last year with 30,000 married couples deciding to call it quits. 

Although military deployments can sometimes turn couples into strangers and tear a marriage apart, Reid said the false assumption that a spouse may have believing that their husband or wife will return as the same person they were before they were deployed can create misunderstanding and insecurities that may also wreck marriages. 

“Most of the time reunions can be idealized or fantasized,” Reid said. “It’s not like that, and that high expectation that runs deep and that is romanticized through the media can really destroy what’s really there.”

For thousands of service members, it’s that anger caused by the detachment, which grows from little to no communication and confusion from both the service member and the spouse, that eats a marriage up. 

But Marnie Waldrop, co-founder of the Camaraderie Foundation, was determined to beat those odds when her husband Michael came home from the war in Afghanistan.

“Before Michael even came home I had a counselor lined up for us because the last thing I wanted to do was go through a horrible deployment … and end up getting divorced and being a statistic,” Waldrop told the crowd. 

The Camaraderie Foundation, which currently helps more than 30 families through its private counseling services, was created primarily to support military veterans, service members and their families with financial, emotional and spiritual support. 

“There’s such a huge stigma associated with counseling that you’re a weak individual and part of [Camaraderie’s] messaging is that you’re actually a stronger individual if you are proactive about getting the care that you need to just digest your process and what you’ve gone through,” Waldrop said. “Anybody that says they don’t need that counselor to talk to or anyone to talk to about their experience is fooling themselves.”

First female private space explorer shares how she achieved her dream

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/first-female-private-space-explorer-shares-how-she-achieved-her-dream-1.2719375#.T24JyGwUJu0.facebook

Chuckles were heard throughout the Live Oak Ballroom on Thursday evening as nearly 30 students waited to hear speaker Anousheh Ansari share the story of her journey to the stars.

As a young girl in Iran, Ansari would gaze into the night skies imagining a world much different than Earth.

“I would think about the worlds out there and the UFOs that would take me back with them,” Ansari said during a visual presentation, which narrated the different phases in her life that led her to space exploration.

The crowd stared at the juxtaposition of two images—one was a drawing of Ansari in a rocket soaring into the sky, while the other was a photograph that captured the departure of a spacecraft that she flew in; the illustrations were identical. 

In 2006, almost 35 years after Ansari drew the optimistic image, she lived out her greatest dream. But instead of UFOs, it was a Russian capsule en route to the International Space Station that brought her drawing to life.

As the first female private space explorer, Ansari’s mission to the stars made headlines throughout the world. But as the first Iranian to take a trip into space, Ansari’s voyage also touched hearts and inspired spirits throughout her homeland.

Shabnam Sabbagh, who was still living in Iran when Ansari was making history, remembers just how influentialAnsari was to her. 

“It was totally inspiring for me because I could actually relate to her a lot—I always was dreaming about going to space,” the first-year digital media graduate student said. “I always knew about what she was doing and [I was always] reading about her online.”

The event, which was organized by the Multicultural Student Center, was held as one of MSC’s Month of the Woman events, a signature event, which celebrates the contributions made by women throughout the world. 

“We wanted to bring someone who could empower women and show them that no matter what you want to do, you can get to it, you just have to work hard for it,” said junior accounting major and MSC’s Diversity Education Director Melissa Stevens. “She’s a very powerful woman. She wanted to go to space and she did what she had to do to getthere.”

Following her visual presentation, Ansari announced her latest aspiration—world peace, a goal she believes can eventually be achieved with the help of commercial space launches. 

According to Ansari, the International Space Station is the perfect example of the magnificent things that humans can build when they put aside their religious beliefs and work through language barriers. She believes that if more people had the chance to see our planet from outer space, they’d realize that it’s wiser to try and preserve our Earth as a collective, instead of focusing simply on every nation’s individual domestic goals.

“You see a different view of the world up there,” Ansari said. “All these lines that we see on a map are lines that we drew on a paper. Up there you can’t tell [where] the countries start or end, [and] if it wasn’t for the water, we wouldn’t recognize the continents either.”

Visiting nonprofit speaks out against abortion

Central Florida Future

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/visiting-nonprofit-speaks-out-against-abortion-1.2716675#.T2dXArSZXQo.facebook

A group of high school and college students took a two-day trip toUCF last week, which they’ve compared to the Freedom Rides that many Civil Rights activists made during the 1960s. But these “Justice Riders” aren’t rallying together to fight racism; they’re part of an anti-abortion organization speaking out against ageism.

Created Equal, a non-profit organization, has been traveling to colleges throughout Florida for the week. Members of the Ohio-based organization settled on UCF’s Free Speech lawn Thursday and Friday, handing out brochures that explain why they believe abortion is age discrimination. 

“The argument is that some people aren’t as equal as others, and in abortion, the argument is that because they are younger and they virtually don’t possess all the same abilities that we do as born people, somehow we can then discriminate against them,” said Mark Harrington, the executive director of Created Equal. “It’s ageism, it’s discriminating on the very young, and it’s no different from racism [or] sexism.”

But on the other side of the Free Speech lawn, progressive student organizations including Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), the National Organization for Women, College Democrats and the Secular Student Alliance were making a different argument.

Alexa Nelen, the president of UCF’s chapter of VOX, said that Created Equal’s concept of ageism is “based on a logical fallacy” because “there’s no way to know whether or not life begins … atconception.”

Created Equal is not the only anti-abortion organization that has voiced the idea of ageism. Many like-minded groups, including the Christian organization Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, use a similar message when protesting against abortion. 

Sarah Maher, a 23-year-old missionary working for SAH, decided to journey this week with Created Equal on their Justice Rides throughout Florida because of their shared sentiments.

“We seek to expose the truth,” Maher said. “[Abortion] hurts college-aged women. There are so many woman that have abortions who then regret it later and have to go through a lot of pain and suffering because of it.”

But according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 80 percent of women are not depressed after having an abortion. The results actually showed that the majority of women are satisfied and relieved by the decision that they made.

Still, Created Equal’s mission is to create a movement of young people to take on what Harrington calls “the culture of death.” To Harrington, this culture comprises those who support abortion and who believe that it’s a human right.

“The Supreme Court and all the rulings are wrong when they found the right to privacy in the constitution,” Harrington said. “The real violation is the dismembering and decapitation of a preborn child, because our founders and our documents are very clear that we have a right to life.”

He believes that like the Civil Rights movement, it is going to take a generation of young people bound together to defeat the death culture. 

The Justice Rides, which started last year, are one way that Created Equal hopes to win the battle. Through private donations from other anti-abortion organizations and individuals, the group has managed to take 12 trips to high schools and colleges throughout the United States. 

Like many anti-abortion organizations, Created Equal uses images of aborted fetal remains to spark discussion among students. 

And the vice president of UCF’s Students for Life, Isabel Walker-Burgos, who also participated in the display, said that the images are important for students to see.

“The illustrations are really hard to look at; they’re really graphic,” said Walker-Burgos, a junior English and Spanish double major. “But I also think that they are important to show what abortion actually does to unborn babies. I just think it’s necessary to really see what’s happening to be able to take a stance to whether you’re opposed to it or agree with it.”

But Nelen believes that the images actually do more harm than good.

“[The illustrations are] meant to mislead people about the process of abortion,” the senior history major said. “It’s also meant to demonize abortion as this narrative constructed around ‘murder’ and ‘life’ when they don’t even evaluate what these things mean.”

To Nelen, displays like the one produced by Created Equal over-politicize the issue of reproductive rights.

“This narrows our reproductive rights movement down to one single issue,” Nelen said. “When in actuality, it’s about a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, and that doesn’t only mean abortion. That means access to birth control [and] access to safe work environments — some people work in environments that are really toxic and have reproductive toxins all aroundthem.”

Student organizations unite to protest birth control refusal

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/student-organizations-unite-to-protest-birth-control-refusal-1.2701711

Alexa Nelen stomped outside of the Student Union on Tuesday as more than 40 students marched toward her in what she called a “vocal flash mob” in protest of birth control refusal.

“Hey Congress, we need our birth control,” recited a crowd of various UCF progressive coalitions including Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), the National Organization for Women, College Democrats and the Student Labor Action Party.

“We are organizations that share a fight for women’s rights,” said Nelen, a senior history major and president ofUCF’s chapter of VOX. “We have been coalition-building and they definitely support our efforts to make sure that everyone has the same access to birth control.”

The protest is a direct response to both the Republican House majority’s and the Catholic Church’s opposition toward a mandate under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act requiring employers to cover contraceptives under their insurance benefits with no co-payments.

Although rules already exempt houses of worship, the exemption hasn’t satisfied religious groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who are lobbying hard to broaden that exemption to include religious schools, organizations and service providers. They posit that covering their employees’ contraceptive services would be a direct violation of their religious beliefs.

Anna Eskamani, vice president of UCF’s College Democrats, disagrees.

“I think it’s very unfair and it’s almost a discriminatory policy that just because I work at a Catholic institution I can’t have access to birth control,” senior political science and interdisciplinary studies double major, Eskamani said. “I think that we should treat every woman as equal no matter their religion.”

The event was held as part of a national action to illustrate to Congress and the president the apprehension toward a birth control refusal clause.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America personally called VOX asking its members to participate in the national action.

“We had a win when Obama refused the clause,” Nelen said. “But then he was inundated with a really controversial press and a lot of media attention to the right so we wanted to bring the media attention back to the side of young people, to the side that needs birth control.”

The chant, which started with Nelen, steadily grew as students hidden within the crowd joined in. Their voices escalated for more than 40 seconds, a deliberate act made to represent the average $40 spent on birth control every month.

Planned Parenthood provided VOX with 34 gas cans to visually explain how the Affordable Care Act would save millions of American women hundreds of dollars annually.

“The average amount a woman will spend on birth control each year is about $600. Which at $3.57 a gallon is 168 gallons of gas,” Nelen said. “We decided to set up a display to tell everyone what that means and that equaled about 34 gas cans. That’s a lot of gas, especially if you’re a student going to and from campus.”

College Democrats member and junior legal studies major Justin Karpf agrees and said he is pleased with the actions taking place at UCF.

“I think this is a very important message for students to hear,” Karpf said. “I know a lot of students work and get insurance, and I don’t think it’s right for a student or anyone for that matter to be denied medical coverage because of their employer’s personal beliefs.”

Out of the hundreds of colleges around the nation taking action on this issue, Planned Parenthood recognizedUCF’s protest to be one of the largest in the nation and will feature the event on their website.