Feminist Student Union confronts new goals, challenges

As one of the oldest student unions at Lewis & Clark, the Feminist Student Union (FSU) has regularly provided programming and resources related to feminism and gender. Under new leadership this year, the FSU is making changes to the group’s goals, as well as facing challenges specific to COVID-19. 

The FSU’s leadership team consists of Caroline Arnis ’22, Isabella Boughalem ’22, Sean Burdick ’22 and Angelina Peterson ’22. The team functions as a group, and while they are each responsible for different aspects of leading the union, they do not have specific positions.

Due to COVID-19, the FSU can no longer hold in-person events. As a result, they are focusing on larger projects that involve administrative change, such as providing free testing through LC’s Health Service for sexually transmitted infections and reimplementing free menstrual products in the bathrooms in all academic buildings, both of which they hope to accomplish by the end of the semester or by the next academic year.

“We’ve been trying to work on administrative change … because we feel like that’s what’s best right now, and could be most impactful and most long-lasting,” Boughalem said.

Hoping to create an intersectional space where more members of the LC community can feel comfortable, the FSU is working on collaborating with other student unions on campus. On Nov. 7, the FSU partnered with College Outdoors and the Disabled Student Union to host an accessible College Outdoors trip.

As a student union rather than a traditional club, the group is primarily project-based and is able to provide funding for individual student projects related to feminism and gender identity. 

“I wish everyone knew that it’s a space for literally anyone who would like to be involved in any capacity that they would like,” Peterson said.

On Oct. 22, The FSU partnered with She Bop, a Portland-based sex toy store, to provide an information session and discount code for students. Sex-positive events are something Burdick would like to have more often, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The FSU provides a number of free menstrual hygiene, contraceptive and safe-sex products to students. However, the accessibility of these products and resources has been limited due to COVID-19. Office hours have decreased due to limited access to the FSU office and occupancy limits. Previously, anyone who had completed Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy (SAPA) training was able to hold office hours.

Another large concern for the FSU is privacy. They have hosted two different sessions of online SAPA training this semester, which they have been working on making more intersectional and inclusive by including information on the impact of sexual assault beyond cisgender women. Meeting with a peer advocate, however, now requires one’s name to be recorded.

“Because of contact tracing, we have to write down everyone’s name who comes in, which really affects SAPA training or people coming in for confidential resources,” Boughalem said.

Arnis stated that privacy “has been breached a lot more than (they) would like it to.” She is also worried that students may not know how to report sexual assault or sexual misconduct this year, given that most processes are now operating virtually.

Overall, the FSU acknowledges that their union has a history of being primarily focused on white, cisgender women, and while they are working to build from that, they know that diversity cannot be forced. They hope to foster a welcoming community this semester, even though making connections in Zoom meetings can be difficult.

“You can’t force people to be comfortable, it takes time and it takes action,” Arnis said. “We are here and we will continue to be productive and continue doing the work that needs to be done. Hopefully, that can build trust over time.”

The FSU meets on Zoom every Thursday at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in getting involved with the FSU can contact fsu@lclark.edu or follow them on Instagram @lc_fsu.

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