Megan Solomon kicked her feet back on the table and leaned back in her chair with her arms crossed as she let out a skeptical laugh. It was almost 80 degrees outside and her sandaled feet showed it, despite the cold air pumping into the debate room.
Her friend, Yves Nguien, paced the room back and forth in her bright red overalls with a Hello Kitty stitched into the front. It seemed to match her bubbly demeanor at first, until she began to describe herself as one of the most hated people on campus.
Solomon and Nguien, 20 and 21 from Las Vegas, are feminists, and Solomon is a founder and now the Vice-President of the club Feminists Unite. As students at St. John’s University, they both realized an issue early on in their time as students. Until last year, St. John’s had no feminist organization on campus.
“There have been organizations that had tried, we were the only one that got recognized” Solomon said about organizing a feminist group on campus, “you have to connect your organization with the mission of the University, so I had to be aware of that and tone down the more radical viewpoints,” she continued.
“I want to have a conversation about abortion, but I understand going through organization that I have to market us as having book club about feminist topics,” Solomon continued, flashing a grin and another skeptical laugh.
Most of this comes down to politics. The University does not want to be seen as taking a side politically, but according to Solomon this also has to do with the Universities Catholic base. What they would view as more political often has to do with where the Church stands.
However, there are more factors that go into getting accredited as an official organization on campus. The process is called Power to Organize, and is done through SGI. Student Services Committee member Anthony Williams spoke about the challenges of getting recognized.
“You have to apply at the beginning of the semester, and you can apply as budgetary or non-budgetary organization, meaning you get money from the school or not. The only reason you would want to be non-budgetary is to advertise, since you need the SGI seal of approval to advertise.”
Solomon had to navigate these challenges when getting Feminists Unite accredited. They had previously advertised unofficially advertised and often ran into trouble with campus security for their often graphic posters.
“People previous to me would put up posters of artistically drawn vagina’s that would get us into trouble. I have seen this be okay on other campuses, but not here, so I had to be careful to censor imagery going through Power to Organize as well,” Solomon said.
Another organization that takes a feminist stance on campus is Student’s For Life, St. John’s pro-life organization. They have been accredited for several years on campus, and often hold presentations to show their viewpoints. One of them is an event where they put gravestones in the shape of crosses on the Great Lawn to mark the lives of all of the babies lost to abortion called the Graveyard of the Innocents.
With that being said, their response to Feminists Unite is not opposition, despite Feminists Unite being a pro-choice organization.
“I think at the end of the day we would have a lot to learn from one another,” said Rose Haslbauer, the Vice-President of Student’s For Life.
“Our feminism comes into play in the fact that in being a feminist pro life person we look at abortion as a symptom to women’s oppression,” Haslbauer said.
“The one thing I would love to change about our organization is the idea that we are all about the babies, of course that is a big part, but I think a lot of people would love our stances on immigration and refugees,” she continued.
Feminists Unite was planning to do their own protest of Graveyard of the Innocents where they were going to place informational posters on the lawn with facts of women that have died from unsafe or abortions. However, they decided that they should avoid the counter-protest for fear of scrutiny from the school.
“We probably would have gotten expelled,” Nguien said, quickly followed up by Solomon who agreed, “we wouldn’t have been able to walk at graduation for certain, probably would have gotten banned from clubs and then there would be a huge magnifying glass on us,” she said.
“Of course the response from the school would be that we didn’t jump through the right hoops to organize the protest, but it would probably be more than that,” she continued.
Another goal of Solomon’s with Feminists Unite was to create accessible birth control methods on campus. As it currently stands, students can be fined for having contraceptives, like condoms, in their dorm rooms.
“I tried to hand out condoms at meetings to be distributed but that didn’t go over well either, University Employees, like RA’s are restricted from handing out the devices,” she said.
This policy often places St. John’s among the bottom tier of sexually safe campuses.
“The administration is responsive when it comes to things like safety, but they won’t go for anything that has birth control in it,” she continued.
Feminists Unite is also not on the St. John’s website. According to Solomon, this may be because they did not fill out forms in time due to them being a new organization, but nobody has been responsive as to why they are not represented.
“It is possible that it is our fault, but it also could just be that the people running it don’t really care,” Solomon said about the website. However, Student’s For Life and other organizations all are listed on the page.
Regardless of their representation, Solomon will be graduating this year where she intends to walk. However, she has already set up her executive board for next year and hopes that they will be able to bring them more into the daylight. But, it will be important for them to be able to roll with the punches, because according to Solomon, being the chair of this kind of club at St. Johns is not easy.
“We’ve gotten death threats before, and there’s a pattern of people who message us once a month that message us saying, ‘who’s the man in charge?’ but I just think they need to find something better to do with their time.”