College tour guest post: The luck of the draw

This is a guest post from Kirstin Rower, the student panelist for tomorrow’s Feministing: Offline and Unfiltered event at UC Merced. Kirstin is a UC Merced sophomore and the president of University Women of Merced Network (UWMN), the campus feminist organization. She intends to major in performing arts while simultaneously kicking some anti-choice butt. Find out more about Feministing’s upcoming California events here.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t pick my college because of free condom handouts or the huge array of pamphlets in the health center. Maybe some of you had that in your heads as you were finalizing that statement of intent, but I’d venture a guess that most prospective freshmen have bigger things on their minds than the quality of their favorite school’s sex ed. We want to examine programs, compare tuitions, and figure out exactly how far we need to go to keep the family’s weekend visits to a minimum. I think it’s safe to say that nobody prioritizes or plans to use what resources your sexual violence program offers. Unless you’re this guy.  So sometimes, it can be a toss-up what kinds of reproductive resources you wind up with. Some of us, like me, just get lucky.

UC Merced is not a large campus. You could probably walk across it in twenty minutes at a brisk pace, and you wouldn’t even miss a thing: The dining commons, housing, and the classroom buildings are all compacted onto this itty-bitty plot of land right up next to a bunch of bored, cud-chewing cows. It’s really quite a picture. What is unique about this campus, though, is its devotion to sexual health. Not only are freshman required to attend at least two seminars on sexual violence prevention and sexual health, but advertisements for the latest social justice workshop or film panel are everywhere. And on a campus like UCM, where, chances are, your class is in one of three nearby buildings, it’s fairly easy to run into these ads at least four or five times a day. It’s kind of awesome.

Maybe that’s just my naïve self marveling at some newfound privilege that every other college kid has had for sometime, but the kind of devotion demonstrated by UCM faculty and offices is a marvel unto itself. Within two weeks of my freshman year, I knew where I could go if I was raped or sexually assaulted. I knew that there were counselors available to talk to me, and that I wouldn’t need to worry about affording their services. I knew that there were people who cared about my well-being and made it a part of their job to ensure all students knew about their resources, and who encouraged us to speak up against rape culture and intervene in situations where sexual violence might happen. There is a safety net of support waiting to catch anyone who needs it. Frankly, it’s amazing.

Contrast this to the greater Merced community, and it’s quite a picture you’ve got. We have a Planned Parenthood; it’s very nice. You can’t get an abortion there, though, and the nearest place is one county over in Turlock. It also shares neighboring space with a couple crisis pregnancy centers, one of which I pass every time I go grocery shopping. They look nice, too – very respectable – except we all know the kinds of stunts those organizations pull.  Am I the only one catching the dissonance?

For the record, I realize that I’m preaching to the choir. Feminists tend to understand the need for reproductive choice and resources much more readily than your common man/woman – and that’s usually because so many of us are already fighting for the cause. However, my overeager self believes that it can’t be said enough just how important it is that we keep this discourse alive, especially in light of the recent spate of assaults against reproductive rights nationwide.

In a state like California, a place I love dearly, the legislature will probably never see a heartbeat bill or personhood amendment. Nevertheless, there are too many individuals in my county alone who don’t have access to the same privileges that I do. If they don’t have the travel accommodations or the money, they may have no recourse against an unwanted pregnancy. If they’re sexually assaulted, they might not have the benefit of a police force that will believe them, much less apprehend the assailant. If they need something as simple as a pregnancy test, who’s to say that they won’t get it and a heaping of misinformation?

So please, feel free to keep blabbing about this issue. Make waves, get people thinking. Slip it into idle conversation, bring it up the next time you see your book club, or regale a crowd with the tale at your friend’s dinner party. Some people (like that friend) might resent you for it, but this is a cause worth raising some hackles for. Once you get past the withering glares, it’s almost fun.

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