Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feminist Spotlight: Keats Conley, College of Idaho FMLA

Keats Conley is a junior at the College of Idaho, majoring in environmental studies with a minor in creative writing. She is the founder and president of the College of Idaho Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, treasurer of Writers’ Co, member of the Trail yearbook staff, co-coordinator of the tri-annual Red Cross student blood drives, co-editor of the online literary magazine C of I Online, and an active writer for the Coyote. She is also involved in environmental sustainability efforts and an organizer of the Intermountain Youth for Responsible Energy Conference.

Eventually, Keats hopes to work as an environmental lawyer for non-profits and looks forward to many years of continued activism as an ecofeminist. She was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions for our second installment of the Feminist Spotlight.

How did you become the feminist you are today?

To be honest, I came a little late to the feminist cause. I began as an immense advocate for animal rights; I became a vegetarian at age 10 and have since become a vegan. My interest in furthering gay rights, energy sustainability, and environmental protections all preceded my interest in feminism. I would like to think that I have been a feminist my whole life—I was fortunate enough to be exposed to many freethinking role models, both male and female, from childhood on—and, unknowingly, this led me to share many of the feminist values. It was only this year, though, that I have really brought my “inner feminist” out into the open.

What was it like starting the FMLA at College of Idaho?

Remarkably easy! I decided I wanted to found the club. I contacted Jacqueline Sun at the national FMF headquarters, she responded almost immediately with information on how to proceed. I spoke with the College’s Director of Student Involvement and received a club petition, promptly collected the necessary signatures of support, and finalized our charter with FMF. It was a fast-paced, exhilarating experience of low-level grassroots activism.

What made you want to start a feminist group at your college?

College of Idaho has a thriving student newspaper called The Coyote. In the first three issues of fall 2009, I was taken aback by a certain author’s “advice” columns, which, among other things, repeatedly condemned the freshmen women for behaving like “sluts,” but supported men “experimenting” with many partners. While I am not a freshman, I met many talented, strong freshman women through my work as a writing tutor in the Academic Support Center, and the article was offensive to me both for its inaccuracy and its blatant double-standards.

I wrote an editorial, and after its publication, I received a massive amount of support and appreciation—both from female and male students of all ages, as well as faculty and alumni. At that point, I realized that perhaps our campus needed an official, organized force to fight for the furthering of equality. We have a “Man Club”—where was its counterpart for women? Unlike many fellow liberal arts colleges, we have no women’s studies or gender studies programs. There was a definite void to be filled.

The club voted on the issues we wanted to address, and we were unanimous in our outrage over fake clinics. Upon further research, we learned that the Pregnancy Resource Center of Ontario, only 20 miles away from our campus, offers very misleading information on the health and “spiritual” risks of abortion and the options available to women who find themselves in crisis. Our members are eager to educate the College of Idaho campus and the wider community about such centers, as well as to engage in dialogue with the CPC to try and improve the factual accuracy of its website.

On a smaller scale, this week we are working on our “Faces of Feminism” collage to help our student body learn what diverse causes the feminist movement encompasses.

What changes would you like to see on your campus in the next year?

First and foremost, I hope that over the next year FMLA can grow into an influential, unified organization that helps all C of I students recognize and speak out against prejudice. While we have witnessed a great deal of progress in the push for equality, I think there is a constant need for continued awareness-raising about the injustices that still occur in our communities on a daily basis. I hope that FMLA’s presence on campus continues to grow, and that next year’s freshman women will not be publicly degraded in the ways they were this year.

This article was featured in our February 2010 monthly Choices eZine. Sign up for our alerts to stay up-to-date with the latest feminist news and to receive the monthly eZine.

1 comment:

alliemcd said...

Way to go Keats! Starting up an FMLA on a campus with as huge of a void as U of I takes some serious courage! I can't believe there's a "Man Club"...did they not notice that EVERYTHING is a "man club"?!?! Keep up the good work - I know your efforts will make a big difference for a lot of women.