Planned Parenthood Youth Advocates
Today at the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, I completed my final Youth Advocate training (a program that I'd introduced here). The eight Youth Advocates and our two mentors gathered in the conference room for a final learning session and de-brief. Appropriately, a dull rain accompanied our final walk past the abortion protesters (this time with cheery umbrellas over their gruesome signs). It was impossible to process that this was it, maybe the last time I’m seeing these awesome people together.
Sure, part of the group is reuniting next week for a Youth Lobby Day at the Massachusetts State House. Three of us will lead another external training with health providers at a non-Planned Parenthood health center. But the monthly/bi-monthly trainings with all eight of us are done.
We learned a great deal about effective facilitation, the feedback sandwich, sexual and reproductive health, social justice, and youth competent care. We had discussions on identity, intersectionality, and the current state of health services for young people. We developed a Youth-Friendly Services Toolkit for health providers. Then, last month, we traveled to the Boston and Springfield Planned Parenthood health centers and facilitated workshops on providing culturally competent care for young people. Those were entirely awesome experiences. The health center staff and my fellow Youth Advocates were amazing to work with.
And today the Youth Advocates got to share final thoughts and feelings. We went around the room, highlighting each person’s strength. Everyone had great things to say about everyone else. Really, we all loved being in that room, working towards the same goal. It was heart-warming and impressive. How often are ten people from vastly different backgrounds able to work so well together? We had Youth Advocates from ages 17 to 22, including two high school juniors, a HS senior, Wellesley freshman and sophomore, a UMass Boston sophomore, and a Harvard senior. What a cool mix!
And now I have a bracelet with nine beads from each of the Youth Advocates and our two awesome-est menors. I don’t plan to take it off anytime soon.
VagMo Cast and Directors
Another awesome group of people is from IAP (January) and February of this year.
Last semester, on a whim, I decided to audition for a play, something I hadn’t done in over ten years. It worked out well, because I did get two parts in said play, The Vagina Monologues. I got to introduce one of the monologues and play one of four transgender women in another.
If you’ve heard of the play, it may have been in a positive light, praising it as a vehicle for women to talk about issues that are in most contexts taboo. The New York Times once hailed it as “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade." You may have also heard of The Vagina Monologues in a negative light, condemning the play’s lack of intersectionality and outdated references. I won’t defend or denounce the play, but talk rather of the MIT experience of The Vagina Monologues, which was super fabulous.
As the title suggests, The Vagina Monologues is a collection of monologues and short group pieces about the feminine experience. Dealing with issues that are often considered taboo, the play is meant as a tool for female empowerment. Originally premiered in 1996, The Vagina Monologues remains perhaps the most important play of its kind. It has both sparked controversy and facilitated great discussion.
At MIT, the student group Stop Our Silence has produced The Vagina Monologues (or VagMo for short, as we called it) for the past fifteen years. Students have written powerful additional monologues about their own experiences, whether with fan fiction, Catholic school, or sexual assault. Others have contributed to the production by making heart- and vagina- and vagina-in-heart-shaped chocolate pops. The proceeds from the event and the lollipops go every year to the local Cambridge Women’s Center. It’s a great cause, plus the production always seems super fun for the actresses, so I really wanted to join. Best decision of my winter! (see pictures of the lollipops and cast here).
Because of its format, being an actress in VagMo was not particularly taxing. We didn’t have to attend full-cast rehearsals until the final week. We did, however, have actress bonding sessions. The cast and directors were a diverse group of amazing women, including undergraduates of all years and an MBA from Sloan, as well as an inspiring 60-something MIT Administrative Assistant who had auditioned for VagMo three years ago simply so she could say the word c*nt for the first time in her life. She has remained with the production, this year in the capacity of a director.
We were all there for different reasons. Some wanted to be part of the VagMo community, others wanted address important issues, or speak out against the stigma, or reflect on personal experiences. But regardless of the differences, we were all passionate about the production and excited to work together. We laughed and cried and sang vagina songs and absolutely enjoyed ourselves. It was truly a wonderful group of women!
And so I adored the VagMo experience. Can’t wait until the cast reunion and next IAP production.
Harvard Teaching Assistants
The final shout-out in this post goes to my awesome Harvard TAs. I’ve had other awesome professors, MIT TAs, and mentors as well, but blog posts have limited space, so more on them later.
At the beginning of the semester, I encountered my former Harvard TA in one of my Harvard classes. I’ll call her R for the purposes of this post. R was a great inspiration for me in PHIL 179 Race and Social Justice, one of two classes that got me to declare a Philosophy major. She was always so nice and encouraging. And this semester, R was delighted to see me again and hear that I’d declared the new major. That very day, she suggested that we meet to discuss Philosophy prospects. R talked about some great classes I could take at Harvard and cool professors I could talk to at MIT. She told me all the awesome things I could do with a Philosophy major (which, apparently, is quite useful). We reminisced about the fun times in PHIL 179. Afterwards, I signed up for the class R suggested and enjoyed it immensely. And I gained much more confidence in my chosen field. What an awesome encounter!
The course R recommended was PHIL 168 Kant’s Ethical Theory. Now, Kant himself was a pretty awesome person back in the eighteenth century, but this post is about philosophy TAs, not philosophers, so more on Kant later. Though, I guess I should mention that Kant’s work is quite technical and challenging conceptually. So, although the class was super awesome, it was also incredibly time-consuming. And eventually, it was the one class that had to go this semester. I always end up dropping something, despite my resolutions to stick with everything.
PHIL 168 was a difficult loss, but this story is a positive spin on that. After submitting the Drop form, I emailed my TA, C, to let him know that I wasn’t quitting because of my dislike for the class or Kant himself, but rather because of time constraints. I had to spend double time prepping for the class because I was having trouble parsing through the technical language in the English translation, and had to read the texts in Russian as well. I thanked C for being awesome and promised to return to the class a different semester. The next day, C replied… in Russian! Using the polite form of the verbs, he said it was nice to meet me and that it was a pity I couldn’t continue. While C’s teaching was already pretty great, that email was a wonderful final surprise. The last shout-out of this post goes to him.
Who has inspired you this year?