Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts on the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference 2012

I feel so lucky to have been able to go to the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in DC! I was inspired by all the other university students looking to expand their program or create one. The general assemblies were packed full of lectures from a wide range of speakers addressing the issues of sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, the LGBTQ movement and feminist work done on the international level. I felt I gained new skills and ambition to tackle the issues of sexual violence back here on our campus. After meeting many different people, I realized how progressive SAPAC is an a student organization, with positive behavior workshops and specific outlets to get men involved in the movement. I found that I have taken for granted the institutional infrastructure that allows SAPAC to continue to exist after students graduate and leave. 

I felt that the most rewarding part of our trip was the opportunity to meet with staffers from Senator Stabenow's office on Capital Hill! i became interested in seeing how our work could translate into political action, political action that took place in the Senate and in the Congress! I loved hearing their stories of how they came to find their passions in public service and how they began working for Senator Stabenow. Both were excited to hear about our Men's Activism program and about the new Relationship Remix workshop. 
As a PE, I was so happy to have been able to meet and spend time with the other volunteers from the NPA and the MA programs. They were awesome to road trip with and I am so happy to have gotten to know them better.

One of my favorite parts of our trip to D.C. besides getting to know people from SAPAC that I didn't previously know was the Regional Caucus.  This was a part during the conference when students from around the country got together by region and spoke about the feminist work they were conducting at their universities.  I was excited to know that SAPAC is ahead in a lot of the work we conduct.  We were able to help give other schools ideas on how to start doing workshops and events of their own to generate awareness about healthy relationships and preventing sexual assault on campuses.

“It’s great being around likeminded people” was a common statement mentioned during the three days SAPAC spent at the National Youth Feminist Leadership Conference (NYFLC) hosted by the Feminist Majority Foundation. Participants enjoyed the comfortable space this conference offered to feminists of all walks of life. One of the strengths of the trip was being likeminded, yet different.  I learned a lot from our guest speakers, but also from the comments, advice, and experiences of other attendees. The open dialogues I witnessed several people engaging in (myself included) were powerful.  Even among our small group of seven SAPACers was an interesting exchange of perspectives on a plethora of topics (including what items are best paired with peanut butter ). For me (and I’m undoubtedly bias) one of the highlights of the trip was speaking to the congressional staffers from Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office. These two young women were genuinely interested in knowing what SAPAC achieved on campus, our presence, tremendous success, and ambitions for the program.  Ms. Alexander and Ms. Rivera also offered the group valuable resources to stay in more regular contact with our elected representatives.  Overall, as I’m sure any participant would agree, the NYFLC conference was a valuable and rewarding trip. Thanks SAPAC!

The National Young Feminist Leadership Conference provided a space for both learning from and interacting with other feminist organizations around the country. One of my favorite aspects of this conference was the wide representation of females, males, and transgender alike, which served as an important reminder (and hopefully takeaway message) that feminism is not only a woman’s issue. Due to this wide representation of participants, I was very excited to attend our Midwest Caucus workshop, where SAPAC got to hear the great feminist work going on in our area. The only regret is not having more time to truly get acquainted with our fellow feminists at the conference.

Personally, one of my favorite parts of this conference was the Reforming Rape Culture and Responding to Sexual Assault on Campus Workshop. This workshop had a fantastic and inspiring panel, including Angela Rose, founder of PAVE (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment); Rhett Walker from Men Can Stop Rape; Emily Greytak from SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape); and Ariana Katz from the Boston University Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. This workshop allowed participants to see how each of these organizations worked, in terms of policy and day-to-day organization. Prior to this workshop, I did not have a lot of knowledge of other rape crisis organizations around the country, so it was incredibly refreshing and comforting to be surrounded by other organizations that share our goals and support our work!

Furthermore, it was an absolutely amazing experience going to Capitol Hill and having the opportunity to speak with members of Debbie Stabenow’s staff! The staffers we met with were incredibly welcoming, very interested in SAPAC’s initiatives and goals, and gave us some great advice about how to continue our work both at SAPAC and as activists in general. It was truly a wonderful meeting, and a major shout out to the Men’s Activism Program at SAPAC for funding our extra night’s stay so we could make this possible!

And lastly, this trip was a great opportunity for some pan-SAPAC bonding! It was wonderful to spend the weekend with new and familiar volunteers alike, both in workshop and on the town! A major thank-you to SAPAC for allowing us to take this journey together!

Overall, the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference was an amazing experience. It was so wonderful to be able to connect with other campus activists from all over the country, especially those who have incredibly active. My favorite speaker by far was Sandra Fluke. She gave incredibly practical advise on how to really make a difference, something she is well practiced in doing. Her advise stuck with me: Find an issue, something tangible that people can rally around, and get it fixed. Think outside the box to try and get other people involved. Stay level-headed.

I wish more of the conference had given me more practical advise such as this, but the workshops I attended were fascinating nonetheless. My favorite workshop hit close to my SAPAC home: Reforming Rape Culture and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses. The speakers were amazing, and it was nice to hear about what people were doing on a national level to combat sexual violence.

Also, getting to meet with staffers from Debbie Stabenow's office was incredible.

This really was a wonderful experience, and I'm so grateful that I got to go.

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