On Saturday Sept. 7, 2013, VOX co-president Lynn Gussman and a dedicated group of VOX trainees piled into their cars to go to the Planned Parenthood Sarasota Health Center, where they learned what it means to be a voice for Planned Parenthood. Led by New College Alumnus and Planned Parenthood Grassroots Outreach Manager Caitlyn Miller, the group discovered the essential parts of volunteering with Planned Parenthood and spreading awareness on-campus and beyond in the Sarasota community.
Training began with a brief history of Planned Parenthood’s beginnings in Brooklyn, New York where Margaret Sanger opened America’s first birth control clinic. This history helped the trainees contextualize the important work they did throughout the day’s training. Training activities included a comprehensive information session on different contraceptive methods, education on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and sharing of goals between VOX leaders.
New College was joined by the VOX chapter from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), which has a decidedly harder time reaching out to its classmates with education about safe sex. FGCU’s campus is known to be more politically conservative, being the only Florida college whose county voted Republican in the 2012 Presidential Election. Having attended FGCU for a year before transferring to New College, Gussman identified with the FGCU students who were struggling to achieve a more sex-positive campus.
The New College VOX members shared tips for attracting positive attention, including a campus VOX week, more Resident Advisor sex education and giving out sexual barriers at events. FGCU had the added dilemma of facing radical pro-life groups on campus, a problem which is virtually nonexistent at New College.
New College Resident Advisors (RA) who regularly provide condoms to their residents were surprised to hear about FGCU’s lack of sex education for RAs. On campus at New College, RAs have the important job of providing education and sexual barriers to other students. RAs receive sex education and each have hundreds of condoms, gloves, lube and dental dams for their Residence Hall. VOX acquires these supplies and works to ensure that the items needed for safe sex are available to every student.
Beyond sex education, VOX supports a healthy campus environment which includes information and education across genders and sexualities. Inclusive and intersectional education is the single most important goal of VOX year after year.
This fall, the premier issue facing VOX and Planned Parenthood is educating the population about the upcoming changes in health insurance laws. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance will be mandatory for all individuals. Registration for health insurance occurs in the online Marketplace where clients can compare plans starting Oct. 1, 2013. VOX training included an extended presentation and conversation about how the new healthcare laws will affect the population, especially students and low-income families.
“I could talk about Medicaid for hours!” Caitlyn Miller said while covering the basics of Obamacare to VOX trainees.
Miller is a strong advocate for Medicaid expansion which recently failed to pass through the Florida legislature. There are 1.2 million uninsured people in Florida who will not have access to Medicaid without healthcare expansion and cannot afford the cheapest of the insurance options offered in the Marketplace. Although people in this low income bracket will not have to pay a fine to be uninsured, they also will not have the healthcare resources that Miller believes should be available to everyone.
Miller has worked with Planned Parenthood for two and a half years as an advocate for grassroots reform. She began to work with VOX last year, using her experience as a former Novo Collegian to connect the campus with resources and opportunities to lobby for reproductive justice.
Gussman found the Obamacare presentation to be especially important to students this year. Few people know what they are required to sign up for by Jan. 1. This information is especially important for students who are not covered under their parents’ insurance. There will be a seminar in future weeks to inform students about what they need to do to get covered under insurance. Planned Parenthood representatives are also invaluable resources to provide information and assistance with Obamacare.
Using their newfound knowledge of the Affordable Care Act, VOX trainees practiced canvassing techniques and set out to explore the neighborhoods of Sarasota. Going door to door provided a unique and rewarding experience for trainees as they informed at-risk communities of the mandatory healthcare law. Residents were often surprised and grateful to learn about Obamacare and what it means for them in the coming year. Planned Parenthood targets uninsured households to inform them of their insurance options and the help Planned Parenthood can provide to them. The organization has partnered with Enroll America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization providing aid to people who need to sign up for a new insurance plan this fall.
VOX chapters are obligated to conduct two canvassing events every semester, on-campus and in the Sarasota community. Trainees developed the skills to educate New College and the surrounding area about the current health insurance issues.
“I hope to be able to use my training to help my peers learn about the importance of contraception, health care and keeping people informed about these things,” first-year Lauren Disla said.
Aspiring to become an OB/GYN, Disla was especially passionate about getting involved with Planned Parenthood and spreading their message. Every VOX member brings their unique interests together to work for a common cause. Healthcare, insurance, sexual health, contraception access and political reform are some of many issues that are close to a VOX member’s heart.
Students can get involved with VOX by attending meetings every Sunday at 7:00 p.m. in the GDC, or by helping out with individual events. Anyone can be added to the VOX mailing list to be informed of future events on campus in support of sex-positive education and reproductive health.