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UCI Hosts Second Annual Women’s Leadership Caucus

By Eliza Partika

ASUCI held the University of California’s second annual Women’s Leadership Caucus in the Student Center from Friday, Feb. 10 through Sunday, Feb. 12.  The Women’s Caucus was established by the UC Council of Student Body Presidents as a political coalition to represent women within the UC student body.  Speakers ranged from advocates for Planned Parenthood to students, who led their own discussion panels; speakers covered many diverse subjects involving women, trans women and women of color, reproductive rights, trans and gender rights, racism and intersectional feminism, sexualization, sexual assault and domestic violence and empowerment through career mentoring and networking opportunities, among other topics.

To open the caucus, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the first Latina in California history to win a seat in the Assembly Appropriations Committee as well as the former president of the Labor Movement, shared encouraging stories from her career as well as failures that empowered her to persevere.

“You’re not going to succeed every time and that’s okay. Always reach for more,” she said. “You will be reaching just far enough.” She also stressed the importance of “being yourself,” as a successful woman who has worked to earn herself a “seat at the table,” and uplifting women instead of competing with one another. “We’re not fighting for one little piece, we are fighting for the whole pie,” she said.

Speakers throughout the conference highlighted the significance of sharing the stories of other women and community members in order to address challenges facing women and marginalized communities in the current political administration, as well as the valuable role that women will have in working towards solutions to those problems.     

Suly Sanchez and Ana Gonzalez of Planned Parenthood’s Community Action Fund, the political branch of Planned Parenthood dedicated to protecting, advocating and educating the public on reproductive rights,  focused their presentation on the impact and effects of the defunding crisis on the 2.5 million women who depend on Planned Parenthood’s resources in addition to abortion, which has “already been defunded,” Gonzalez said. In a year’s time, she said, defunded resources will include essential programs like sex education in high schools and funding for STI testing. The women stressed the threat of defunding alongside the importance of educating the public through events like the Orange County Women’s March, which they helped organize, and lobbying Congress through their Capitol Day.

“Some people are never going to agree,” Sanchez said, stressing that creating dialogue and sharing perspectives is key.

In a panel titled “Indivisible Womxn: Getting your Federal State and Local Legislators to Listen,” Naomi Soto, a Health Policy Fellow and Health Corp Program Consultant, encouraged women to pass legislation on Capitol Hill.

“Learning from talented people and being empowered on a fundamental level [allows them to realize] I don’t have to be a victim, I can be an advocate for myself, tell my story better,” Soto said.  

Jade Turner, UCI alum and Associate Director of the Cross-Cultural Center and President of the Black Faculty and Staff Association at UCI spoke on intersectional feminism, which she defined as “the overlapping of intersecting social identities to create a whole that is different from the component identities,” based on the definition of Kimberlé Crenshaw, a prominent activist for women of color. Turner addressed a common criticism of intersectional feminism, which argues that by including marginalized identities, intersectional feminists undermine unity.

“Feminism must be intersectional to understand all perspectives,” Turner said. “Glossing over issues faced by specific groups for the sake of unity centers around people of privilege. If we don’t want to center around people of privilege we must pay attention to others’ experiences.”

In closing, Daniel Juarez, ASUCSD President,  reflected on the impact students should have as individuals.

“What is the vision I have for the world and what can I do to change it? As university students we have access to something meaningful. We need to use that to our advantage because silence is complacency and complacency is worse than standing up.”

2016-2017 Student Regent Marcela Ramirez concluded by calling members of the caucus to action.

“Our test is about the journey, how we navigate the peaks and valleys when we get tired,” Ramirez said.

Quoting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reprimand of Senator Elizabeth Warren, which has become an unintended feminist slogan, Ramirez gave participants one final word of advice: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”