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Meet Berkeley's sex activists

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FEBRUARY 13, 2018

Numerous women in Berkeley are leading sex advocacy and education efforts. Here are a few of them:

Adiba Khan

Campus senior Adiba Khan is leading the charge for medical abortion services on college campuses across California. She founded Students United for Reproductive Justice, and along with the co-directors of the student organization, began lobbying campus administration as early as fall 2015 for access to medical abortion pills. In spring 2016, she authored an ASUC resolution urging the Tang Center to implement the service.

The local campaign proved unsuccessful, but Khan changed tactics and worked instead with State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino’s office to pen SB 320, which would require that publicly funded health centers at UC and CSU campuses provide abortion pills.

Khan is invested in reproductive rights because growing up in Oklahoma — historically a state with restrictive abortion laws — she witnessed lives that were changed for the worst because of the way policy, law and intersections of identity can obstruct people’s bodily autonomy.

Even at UC Berkeley, Khan has friends who have encountered barriers to accessing abortion through the Tang Center’s referral process, providing the impetus for her work on medical abortion. The campus health center has a slew of reproductive health services on site — just not abortion.

“I’ve always cared about reproductive justice and saw issues to access even in California,” Khan said. “I wanted to be invested in improving the law and access and societal notions toward reproductive rights.”

The bill has passed through the state Senate. If it passes through the Assembly as well, it will be on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk by the end of September.

Simone Stevens

Oakland-based high school senior Simone Stevens started as an intern for City Councilmember Kriss Worthington at the start of last summer. By fall, she had drafted a proposal to legalize the display of breasts in public, colloquially known as the “Free the Nipple” bill.

Stevens is president of her high school’s Women’s Affinity Group and has been interested in women’s rights, particularly women’s bodily autonomy, for a long time. She seized on the chance to change legislation and remove restrictions on female toplessness.

“When I got into a position where I could actually do something,” Stevens said. “I knew I had to take that opportunity.”

Berkeley City Council considered the bill, sponsored by Worthington, but Councilmember Sophie Hahn made a successful motion to table it in September, saying during a meeting that there were more pressing women’s equality issues. Stevens was disappointed with the council’s decision: “Berkeley sort of touts itself as this liberal utopia for women,” Stevens said. “And the fact that council didn’t even vote on it was sort of a blow to that image.”

But she remains optimistic, and she plans to rally more support in the coming months to get City Council to reconsider the original bill or propose new legislation. Throughout the process, Stevens has met others who share her passion, including a leader of the topless movement who has worked for decades to change laws so that women’s breasts will no longer be criminalized — and that strengthened her convictions even further.

Stevens is also interested in animal rights: A bill she drafted prohibiting the use of fish as carnival prizes successfully passed in September.

“I’m interested in making the world a fairer place, whether that means not having laws that needlessly sexualize and fetiishize womens bodies or ending the needless suffering of fish,” Stevens said.

Rizza Estacio

At the beginning of the fall, ASUC Senator Rizza Estacio and her staff submitted a proposal to the student Wellness Fund committee to receive funding for a wellness machine. The wellness machine she sought funding for would essentially be campus vending machines for over-the-counter medicine and contraceptives, especially emergency contraceptives.

Soon after submitting her proposal, Estacio learned that ASUC Senator Connor Hughes had submitted a nearly identical proposal. The two senators decided to join forces, and ASUC Senator Katya Yamamoto joined the fight.

“We think it’s really important to have more visibly accessible resources, especially when it comes to planned contraception and emergency contraception,” Yamamoto said.

The contraceptions offered at these vending machines, which the senators envision could one day be scattered across campus, would be cheaper than those offered by University Health Services and at local pharmacies such as Walgreens.

But their purpose goes beyond straight accessibility. Estacio and Yamamoto hope that the wellness machines will help students who need to access contraception do so with relative anonymity. By taking cash, the machines remove any method of tracing a purchase back to students. And they’ll include medicines such as Tylenol so that they can’t be branded as “Plan-B machines.” According to Estacio, students who belong to marginalized communities often face greater stigma for accessing contraception.

“The purpose is hyperaccessibility,” Estacio said. “It would be way more affordable than what’s at the Tang Center. It’s also anonymous.”

In February, UCSD began offering emergency contraceptives through a wellness machine after UC Davis, which started the program in March 2016, and UC Santa Barbara, which opened its machine in 2015.


Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

Sahar Priano

When Sahar Priano joined the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC, in fall 2015, consent education was unstandardized, inconsistent and scattered. Now, three years later, she’s finishing her last semester living in the co-op houses as chair of the Consent Working Group, a cohort of BSC members who create and implement consent education for the BSC’s 20 units and roughly 1300 members.

Sarah Weinberg, then the BSC vice president of experience and training, started the Consent Working Group in spring of 2016. Weinberg brought on Priano because of her experience doing consent work in the ASUC, and soon after, Priano became the first official chair of the group.

“It’s definitely a cooperative effort, and I couldn’t have done it without my facilitators that I worked with throughout the years,” Priano said.

Through the Consent Working Group, Priano pushes for consent education that’s more nuanced and impactful than what many might be accustomed to. The group’s core workshop is called “Foundations of Consent,” but according to Priano, many residents of the BSC know the standard consent workshop after one semester, so rehashing it becomes redundant. She and her team created “Exploring Power, Privilege, and Consent” which delves deeper into the implicit causes of sexual misconduct and the interplay of consent and societal status. This workshop incorporates techniques from anti-oppression workshops to establish a framework for realistic dialogue regarding consent, and it’s now one of the core workshops, too.

The BSC Consent Working Group doesn’t only provide consent education for members of the BSC. Through a series of partnerships, the group helps other student organizations such as the Greek houses develop a culture of consent by leading workshops and training others to give consent talks.

As the first official chair of the Consent Working Group, Priano has high hopes for its future and its power to, as she says, “reproduce and democratize information for the whole BSC membership.”

Vidhi Patel

Every Friday without fail, Vidhi Patel can be found at the Tang Center, answering any and all questions about sex. And on the last Friday of every month, she rapidly administers needle pricks to anyone who comes through for free HIV testing.

Patel is a “sexpert” with the campus’s Sexual Health Education Program, or SHEP, specifically the Sexpert Education Clinic, which aims to provide easy access to health information, promote sex positivity and empowerment, and improve sex-related communication and decision-making.

One of the most common questions Patel receives from students at the clinic is how to access birth control without seeing a clinician. Her answer: If you’re looking for the pill, the patch or NuvaRing, you can get a prescription through the Tang Center’s online portal without seeing someone in person.

Patel recently started work on a project to improve access and communication about sexual health within the South Asian community. She’s been in SHEP for three years now, and she noticed that the South Asian and Asian population in general is not well-represented in conversations about sexual health and education.

“Often when we offer info about sexual health, we ignore culturally sensitive issues,” Patel said. She’s hoping to help bridge that gap with a new video series she’s hosting called “VD Talks” — VD stands for “venereal disease” but it is also phonetically similar to Vidhi.

Right now, she has a survey out to gather information on what the South Asian community wants to know, from information on sexual pleasure to how to access birth control without the purchase appearing on an insurance form.

Before coming to UC Berkeley, Patel never really spoke openly about sex or sexual health.

“All I knew was that it was important, and I wondered why it wasn’t talked about in my family and household,” Patel said. “Once I got involved with (SHEP), I realized how it can be a tool for female empowerment.”

Nakia Ka Trice Woods 

Nakia Ka Trice Woods has been a facilitator for the FemSex DeCal for nine semesters — longer than many students are even at UC Berkeley — making her one of the longest-serving facilitators in the DeCal’s 25-year history.

The DeCal aims to provide an open space for students to learn about their bodies and boundaries, and think broadly and critically about sex.

When FemSex started in 1993, it was called “The Orgasm Class,” according to the FemSex website, and it immediately took off. A second section had to be created because of the class’s popularity. The idea spread across the country to other campuses — now, FemSex offers multiple sections every semester, and multiple colleges offer similar student-run classes related to sex.

“There’s something special about being in a space with no one that you know — and being able to open up and speak about certain things that you might not be comfortable talking about with your friends,” Woods told The Daily Californian in 2016.

That’s what FemSex has offered for 25 years: a space for students to engage with sex intellectually without fear of shame or judgement. Classes range from 14 to 20 students, and students don’t have to attend UC Berkeley to apply. In order to teach the multiple sections, facilitators team up. This semester, there are nine people on the FemSex staff who collaborate to lead three sections.

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that if SB 320 was enacted, community colleges would also be mandated to provide medication abortion. In fact, the bill was amended to remove this stipulation.
Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected]. and Karim Doumar at [email protected].

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

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