URGE ready to be the voice of women’s reproductive rights at UTEP
February 9, 2016
Student feminists who come together to fight for gender equality and reproductive justice on campus are calling themselves Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, or URGE.
Working under the relatively new acronym, the organization now called URGE has a longer history. Previously known as the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the women involved unite together to deal with different issues that have to do with anything about gender, sexuality or reproductive rights.
After the majority of FMLA members graduated and moved on three years ago, the organization became dormant. Now they are back, and under the national organization called URGE, which has campus chapters all over the United States.
Not only is the voice back on campus, it is bigger.
“I think that URGE encompasses a lot more with their name than FMLA,” said URGE faculty advisor Gina Lawrence. “It’s not just a feminist organization. We talk about all sorts of gender issues, especially along the lines of LGBQT and reproductive issues that weren’t covered under FMLA.”
UTEP became the sixth university in Texas to join URGE, making them the lone voice in the Southwest region. No other chapters exist in the Texas panhandle, New Mexico or Arizona.
Logistically, UTEP’s chapter of URGE cannot reach out to most universities in the Southwest region, but they do lend a hand to El Paso Community College, New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College in terms of outreach.
“The way El Paso is (structured), we’re not trying to just stick with being a student organization,” Lawrence said. “While we are based on campus, we like to see ourselves more as a community organization. A lot of the work we do is more community based, so there is no reason to exclude people.”
Lawrence, a doctoral student who works as an assistant instructor in English department, joined the UTEP chapter in the spring semester of 2015, and said that since the organization has ramped up this semester, the response has been good.
“It’s been a little slow starting up, but our last meeting was really exciting,” Lawrence said. “We had lots of people that are just ready to start talking about these issues, especially with the political climate right now.”
The political climate Lawrence was eluding to is the upcoming Supreme Court case regarding a Texas bill called the Texas Omnibus Abortion Bill (HB2), which contains multiple abortion restrictions. The case is better known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and will take place on March 2.
The subject of reproductive rights has not gone unnoticed, usually resulting in hostile debates between socially conservative and liberal people on the matter. Texas, a red state, which has shown opposition and hostility towards the specifics of women’s reproductive rights, has not found its way onto the UTEP campus.
“We haven’t met anything on campus that has been against us at this point, which has been I think fortunate,” Lawrence said. ”I think it’s representative of our politics here in El Paso, we’re not super conservative.”
Nonetheless, there is still dissenting opinion from people who take issue with the idea of abortion, even other students on campus.
“I really believe in life,” said junior biological sciences major Susana Sanchez. “Am I against the organization? Not really because I understand people have other opinions, but I do not like the fact that others really try to defend not having someone being born.”
Sanchez said she would not go out and protest against URGE, but she would not support the organization, let alone agree with their stance.
Even with some detractors being students, the growth of URGE continues to be on an upswing. Currently, the organization has 30 active student members and six more on the leadership board. An approximate number of members that URGE could possibly reach in the next year or so is unknown, but the student support is there.
Although URGE advocates for women’s reproductive rights, some students see the organization as a tool to fix the missteps in poor sex education. Senior anthropology major Emily Guerra said she is one of those students and thinks that URGE could be a great resource.
“They (high school) just teach you abstinence only, so when you have that (sexual) experience you don’t know anything, having something like (URGE) is important,” Guerra said. “I’m pro-choice myself… so having an organization that backs up what I believe is great.”
No matter the acronym, students at UTEP have a resource to represent them and their rights from now on.
“You don’t have to be a women to be a feminist,” Lawrence said. “You don’t have to be an angry man-hating, bra-burning, like all these negative things we think of as feminist. We’re here just to fight for equity and representation.”
Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected].