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Women's health conference offers diverse options

Workshops provide opportunity to teach, spread campus activism

by Susanna Henighan

For Kathryn Brownson, college senior and one of the organizers of this weekend's Women's Health Conference, the weekend is an important way to increase activism on campus. "First you educate, then you get angry and then you learn how to act on it," Brownson said.

Brownson and sophomore Devin Powers, along with other organizers, are welcoming representatives from organizations like the New York Lesbian AIDS Project, the Jane Collective and the National Women's Network as part of the conference this weekend.

Sponsored by Oberlin Students United for Reproductive Freedom (OSURF), the conference will include sessions on feminist therapy, abortion clinic work, eating disorders, immigration policy and women's health, a history of underground abortion services and others.

In coming up with topics and focuses for the conference Brownson said planners tried to focus on elements of class, race and sexuality that have often been left out of traditional concerns for women's health. "It's important to come at it from a lot of different perspectives," she said.

Eryca Peskin, college senior and co-chair of OSURF said the conference is also an effort to expand the issues OSURF addresses. "Reproductive freedom isn't everyone's pet issue," she said. The variety of issues is an effort to reach out to many groups Peskin said.

Powers said she thinks women's health itself is often overlooked as an issue. "It's not in the public eye," she said.

Brownson said she thinks a conference like this is important because it lets activists from other schools and organizations network with each other.

The conference is the first of its kind to happen at Oberlin. One of the speakers, Sonja Herbert OC '91 who is speaking on activism after college, organized a conference while she was a student but Brownson said it centered mainly on reproductive freedom.

Putting together the conference was a lot of work for organizers; most of the recruiting and fundraising was done by Powers and Brownson as a Winter Term project. Brownson had made several initial contacts with speakers at a women's health conference she went to at Hampshire College. Using those contacts and other names they were given from many sources, Brownson and Powers contacted activists in many areas of women's health.

"We spend horrendous amounts of money on long-distance phone calls," Brownson said. Despite the cost, Brownson said the experience of organizing an event like this was interesting and fun. "It was neat having all these women I admire knowing my name," she said.

Powers said she was impressed by the enthusiasm activists had about coming to Oberlin and the number of activists there were. "It's amazing how accessible some of these people are," she said.

Brownson and Powers were surprised and excited that Laura Kaplan from the Jane Collective will be coming to talk about the history of underground and illegal abortion.

Other sessions organizers said they were particularly excited about include one about immigration policy and women's health, as well as several about issues of health within the queer women's community.


Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 22, April 25, 1997

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