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Students for Choice president encourages activism amidst current political climate

Westminster students sign a banner in the Richer Commons on April 4 pledging to help “spread the word to end the word.” The language campaign was part of the Disability and Neurodivergence Events Series, which centered around educating the campus community about language, acceptance, inclusion and education for people with all different kinds of abilities. Photo by Dariia Miroshnikova.

When President Donald Trump released his 2018 budget proposal in May — which put funding for entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood, on the chopping block — some saw it as a follow-through on his pro-life campaign promises.

But for members of Westminster College’s Students for Choice club, a college chapter of Planned Parenthood, it was another example of the need to rally harder for women’s rights and sexual health rights on campus and beyond.

“Obviously the current presidential administration is not super supportive of Planned Parenthood,” said Kate Tsourmas, a senior neuroscience major and the vice president of communications for the club, which works to educate students about healthy and safe sex.

For Ocean Candler, a junior public health major and the new president of Students for Choice, that national pushback means it’s an important time for individuals to become involved in activism related to reproductive health rights.

“Planned Parenthood is under a really close microscope,” she said. “We need people now more than ever to be there, to rally, to stand for what they believe and to push back, question and resist.”

Candler sat down with The Forum to talk about the climate for reproductive health rights on Westminster’s campus and her plans with Students for Choice for the upcoming year. Her responses have been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: Does Westminster support sexual and reproductive health rights?

A: I think it’s hard because any institution is going to have some hierarchy and it’s going to have a basis of patriarchy and whiteness and that is hard to kind of stray away from. We are super liberal, but we still have [that] here. We are getting better in these last couple years. We have been really pushing for more representation of students and more diversity. But it is really hard when your roots are really white and male-centric — and the majority of institutions in the U.S. are white and male, which is fine — but that does build some walls that we really need to knock down in order to build a movement. I think Westminster is a great place and compared to other institutions with Students for Choice, we really are safe and respected here. But it is hard to fight for space.

Q: What do you want Students for Choice improve this year?

Grace Gorham, Ocean Candler and Jessica Garcia express why they stand for Planned Parenthood at Students for Choice’s annual Condom Olympics Sept. 13.  Candler, a junior public health major and the new president of Students for Choice, said that national pushback against Planned Parenthood means it’s an important time for individuals to become involved in activism related to reproductive health rights. (Photo by Katie Felice)

Grace Gorham, Ocean Candler and Jessica Garcia express why they stand for Planned Parenthood at Students for Choice’s annual Condom Olympics Sept. 13.  Candler, a junior public health major and the new president of Students for Choice, said that national pushback against Planned Parenthood means it’s an important time for individuals to become involved in activism related to reproductive health rights. (Photo by Katie Felice)

A: To have more of a presence on campus. I really want to push for education this year not only in sex education but [also with] Planned Parenthood. We want to provide a space for people to ask questions where they get medically accurate information. I think that is really important. Having an outlet to have these conversations means in the future nothing can prevent you from having these conversations with your partner, friends, family and your community.

Q: Why do you think education is so important?

A: [It gives] people the chance to learn and understand what sex ed is and what reproductive health is — because growing up in Utah, you don’t get that. You don’t get those conversations about ‘This is what sex is, this is why it’s important, this is how to have conversations with your partners.’ You never get those conversations. I did through my mom, but most parents aren’t like that.

Q: Would you call yourself a feminist?

A: Absolutely. I think everyone is a feminist — they just don’t want to admit it. Because here is the thing: feminism has been misconstrued to mean so many different things. There’s a lot of layers to feminism. I mean, right now there is a lot of conversation about white feminism. As a white woman, what I am noticing with a lot of other white women and men is that we will only fight for things that affect us. So women’s rights, that affects all women, but people are less inclined to get behind the Black Lives Matter movement because it does not affect them. Also, [there’s a perception that] women want to be higher than men, but men have always held the power; we just want to lessen the gap. I think a lot of people and a lot of men get really defensive because they feel threatened by strong, powerful women.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

A: Fighting for something I believe in and knowing I have the opportunity to change things politically in Utah and to speak for those that don’t have a place to speak. I am in a place of privilege. You shouldn’t apologize for your privilege, but I think you should use it to the best of your ability and do the right thing. Not everyone has that opportunity and I think that I am in a place where I should be doing something because I have the power to.

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