Student promotes safer sex through SYRF

photos courtesy of Ilene Gillispie

A common misconception regarding members of religious or spiritual groups is that, in regards to abortion, they’re all anti-choice. Thesis student Ilene Gillispie sat down with the Catalyst to say otherwise. She spoke about Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF), a program of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). According to SYRF’s website,, their program “educates, organizes and empowers youth and young adults to put their faith into action and advocate for pro-choice social justice.”

As a campus organizer for SYRF, Gillispie’s job is to host events and make resources like condoms and information about the organization available to students.

“I think my main goal is to get people comfortable with people of faith, both spiritual and religious,” Gillispie said. “Know that we’re on the same page even if we don’t share the same religious or spiritual beliefs.”

Gillispie’s been involved with the program for two-and-a-half years and now works alone as a campus organizer, though she used to partner with New College alum (’11) Staci Haber. Haber is the one who suggested Gillispie would be a good person for the job.

Although the organization doesn’t have meetings on campus, Gillispie advertises events on the student Forum. These events sometimes consist of sitting in Hamilton “Ham” Center and passing out condoms, candy and free SYRF merchandise. Other times, Gillispie takes it a step further and puts together events like safe-sex demonstrations. “I did condom demonstrations,” Gillispie remembered. “It was a salad bar, so I did demonstrations like, how to put a condom on a cucumber.”

Gillispie said she tries to get members out into the community as well. On Tuesday, Mar. 6, members of the organization gathered together to counter-protest at a Planned Parenthood gala dinner, at which anti-choice protestors showed up with signs reading “women need love, not abortions.”

Last semester, Gillispie had New College students partner with the local Unitarian Universalist church to watch a documentary concerning gay adoption in Florida. In the future, students can look forward to “sexual health bingo” where there will be fun prizes like sex toys and candy.

“Students’ reactions have been great,” Gillispie said. “I think people are really interested in the fact that religious and spiritual people are also pro-choice.

“However, it doesn’t only have to do with being pro-choice, either. That’s not the sole aim of this organization,” Gillispie continued. “You can be anti-choice and still support comprehensive sexuality education.

“We’ve had a very diverse group of people supporting the organization,” she added.

When it comes to what’s more important for the New College student body, sexual education or religious tolerance, Gillispie said that she feels it’s the latter.

“I feel like New College isn’t really the place where sexual health is particularly worrisome,” she said. “I don’t see people here behaving in ways that I feel are really sexually irresponsible.”

There does, however, appear to be a general backlash against organized religion. Gillispie, who works with the Inter-faith Council on campus, has heard of instances with negative interactions.

SYRF is not immune from receiving backlash themselves. Gillispie recalled lobbying in Virginia “where there were people who made a chain with their bodies to stop us from getting into city hall.”


Gillispie is graduating this year and would like to spread the word that if anyone is interested in becoming a campus organizer for SYRF, they should contact her. 

Leave a Reply