“Even though progress doesn’t come as fast as we want, that doesn’t mean we aren’t making ground,” Connor Kratz, MCAS ‘18, current chair of Students for Sexual Health (SSH), asserted. SSH is a health advocacy organization committed to improving sexual health education, resources, and discussion at Boston College. Kratz has found that just because advocacy doesn’t always have immediate results doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made.
On Thursday, April 19, Kratz and two other BC students shared their journeys to political advocacy at FACES’ last event of the year, Resistance 101: From Personal to Political. FACES Council is dedicated to educating the BC community on issues of race, power, and privilege through dialogue.
At this event, Kratz explained that his journey to political advocacy began his freshman year, after feeling culture shock on arriving at BC. When he got to campus in the fall, he realized that BC was a very different environment than what he was used to. He came from a public school in Minnesota with a political climate he was much more in touch with. At the same time, Kratz was grappling with his sexuality, and it wasn’t until the end of his freshman year that he was able to confidently admit that he was gay.
“So I came out, but then I didn’t have many opportunities to embrace my sexuality or have discussions to understand what resources were available. It’s a real issue for a lot of students,” said Kratz.
He wanted to find groups of students who had similar passions as him. That’s when he joined Students for Sexual Health.
“While, for some of us, it’s a culture shock coming to BC, I’ve realized there are so many opportunities to actually make the most of that, for the better… Realizing I could help improve the culture here gave me that purpose I was looking for.”
This year, Kratz conducted a survey on BC students’ behaviors and attitudes regarding sexual health. Of 400 students polled, 80% are sexually active, but 70% of students said they don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the university about questions or concerns regarding their sexual health. With these findings in mind, he proposed a referendum that SSH should be permitted to meet on campus and distribute contraceptives without university funding or recognition.
Although 94% of students voted yes to the referendum, the university responded that it would not change its policy, so Students for Sexual Health went a different route by launching RubberHub, a free condom delivery service. According to Kratz, “There are a lot of limits to some of the protesting you can do, but there are so many ways to innovate and do what you can to make a difference.”
Ollie Kuo, MCAS ‘19, experiences advocacy differently, saying her journey began with a general interest in women’s issues, public policy, and social work. Last summer, she worked at an emergency domestic violence shelter in Fairfax County, Va., that serves survivors of human trafficking, stalking, and interpersonal and domestic violence.
“The goal of the program is to encourage and give back agency to individuals who have gone through these experiences and get them help in any kind of way, find them housing, get them a job, basically help them get back on their feet to build their own lives after these experiences,” said Kuo.
As the case management and residential coordination intern, Kuo had a dynamic role. Day to day, she helped the residential coordinators arrange grocery deliveries and SNAP benefits—also known as food stamps—as well as contacted lawyer’s offices, brought different kinds of advocates to the shelter to work with clients, and coordinated other services. She was also trained on the 24-hour emergency hotline, answering crisis calls, screening clients, and giving assessments over the phone.
“It was a lot,” she said. “But [the staff] trusted my judgment, and they trusted that I would do the best that I could.” In her experience, Kuo got a glimpse of what it would be like to have your life uprooted by someone who makes you feel completely unsafe, and she learned how to talk to survivors about their situations without retraumatizing them.
“One of the things they talked about a lot to me was the idea of being a trauma-informed advocate and seeking to reinstill agency and help our clients do what they felt they needed to do to rebuild their lives and potentially those of their children and whoever they brought with them into shelter, while keeping them safe, while maintaining confidentiality.”
For Titi Odelele, MCAS '18, advocacy has been more of a spiritual journey. The activism she is involved with “is predominantly through my church at home, Bethel Assembly of God. If any of you know about Assembly of God churches, they’re not the most progressive places, at least some of them. But there are some really great things that we do as a community, so the type of work I’m involved in is done out of an affiliation with spirituality versus political activism.”
Back home in Newark, New Jersey, Odelele helps to provide immediate relief to families in her area, mainly through grocery drop offs and providing fresh food to families in need. Odelele says that she became involved in her church’s relief efforts at a time when she was looking to be more active in her community, especially knowing that the city of Newark is a food desert, an urban area where it is difficult to buy affordable, fresh food.
She recalls that when she initially became involved, there were usually just five people lined up for food at her church. But two years later, the program reaches over 160 families. While her advocacy doesn’t have the same institutional aspect as Kratz’ and Kuo’s, “there is something to be said about the effect that we’re having.”
For Odelele, advocacy has been about understanding the different ways that people can intervene in uneven structures of power on both a personal and an organizational level. Like Kratz and Kuo, her journey to advocacy did not happen overnight.
For all three students, advocacy is a passion, one that has grown with time and experience. The FACES event provided insight into various forms of advocacy, showing that there is no one path towards change.