UNL students resurrect equity group to promote open dialogue on sex, gender

March 18, 2014

Whether it’s through small-group discussions, plays or cupcake sales in the Nebraska Union, SAGE is looking to open students’ minds.

Audrey Nance, a sophomore journalism major and treasurer and co-founder of SAGE, formed the group in the fall of 2013. Nance and fellow co-founder Meredith Cain, a junior women’s and gender studies major, interned at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and attended a Planned Parenthood Young Leaders conference in Washington, D.C., last summer.

“I had never been in an environment so supportive, that I agreed with on so many levels,” Nance said. “Interning for Planned Parenthood made me know that social activism was what I wanted to do.”

The conference was for students who run Vox Chapters, which are official Planned Parenthood-affiliated campus organizations that provide resources to universities across the country. Nance and Cain wanted to start a Vox Chapter at UNL but found they had to have an already active group on campus.

SAGE, which stands for Students Advocating Gender Equity, was founded at UNL in the early ’90s, but was revived earlier this year by Nance and Cain. Students for Choice was formed in the late 2000s but has lacked visibility in recent years.

“We saw that UNL had SAGE and Students for Choice, but they were dormant clubs,” Nance said. “We decided to breathe new life into them.”

Nance said despite what one may think about Nebraska’s conservative political climate, the university has a lot to offer students when it comes to resources regarding gender, sexuality and health.

“The politics of our state could use a little work but that doesn’t diminish the resources that our university offers,” Nance said. “We have a really great Women’s Center, and they’re extending a helping hand to all students and doing great education stuff like Women’s Week. We also have a great LGBTQA Resource Center.”

The group has recently seen an increase in visibility on campus with its “Gender Equity Bake Sales” at the Nebraska Union. The group sells cupcakes priced at $1 for men and 77 cents for women to raise awareness about America’s wage gap.

“We’ve done two in the union and one in the Sheldon,” Nance said. “We’re now getting invited places; it’s been really positive. People are really getting it.”

The group members were worried they would receive backlash because of the sensitive political topic, but Nance believes that’s the point of the bake sales.

“People say ‘It’s not fair!’ Well, that’s the point,” Nance said. “The whole purpose of the exercise is to be aware of that. Women don’t get a discount for buying things, but they’re still getting paid less. Whether it’s 77 cents or 98 cents, it’s less, every time.”

Though SAGE has been on campus for 20 years, the group was inactive for a long period of time. Nance said she wants to see the group maintain a long-term presence on campus in the future.

“The reason (SAGE and Students for Choice) ended is people aged out,” Nance said. “It was really strong but when all the members graduated, that was the end of it.”

One of SAGE’s main priorities this spring is to recruit freshmen and sophomores on campus.

“(Underclassmen) are the people who are going to carry the torch when we’re gone,“ Nance said. “There are really great groups on campus right now, and without freshman, they’re gonna fizzle out.”

Cain and Nance have so far coordinated all of the group’s events this semester, but SAGE has begun holding weekly meetings off-campus at Meadowlark Coffee & Espresso.

“You don’t have to RSVP or anything,” Nance said. “We’re always going to have the meetings there. Now is the time to get involved; it’s brand new. You’re not gonna be the new kid; we’re all new kids.”

SAGE frequently collaborates with other groups on campus including Students for Sexual Health and UNL International Socialist Organization and plans on working with other groups on campus in the future.

“There are a lot of really great groups working on campus right now,” Nance said. “We’re all connected. We all want everyone to be whoever they want to be. So people can feel safe and welcome wherever they are. I think that’s what all of these groups are working towards.”

The group intends to do a “condom crawl” with SSH where members will hand out free condoms at bars downtown to promote safe sex.

“Bars are the best place to hand (condoms) out,” Nance said. “It’s like, ‘I know you’re gonna be looking for one of these later. I’ve got you covered. Literally and figuratively.’”

SAGE is also co-sponsoring a theater event with UNL International Socialist Organization. The play, “Mom Baby God,” is a fictional one-woman play based on playwright, actress and reproductive rights activist Madeline Burrows’ experiences attending pro-life fundraisers and rallies. The play will be performed two nights, April 18 and 19, in the Haymarket Theatre at 803 Q Street. Tickets are $10 for students/low income, $20 for adults.

“This kind of collaboration allows us to bring bigger, better events,” Nance said. “That’s what we want to try for in the future.”

Nance believes education and open conversation are key to creating change, whether it’s in lowered rates of STDs, abortion or sexual violence.

“Everybody gets socialized the same way, and everyone has to go around deconstructing that whole bullshit,” Nance said. “These issues still happen even if you don’t want to talk about them.”

Nance firmly believes there’s a culture of shame in our society around talking about sex and gender and hopes SAGE will help foster more candid discussion about health and safety on campus.

“If we don’t talk about it people are gonna figure things out through a process of trial and error, and the error is what’s gonna suck,” Nance said. “We just try to make it easier. You can talk to people and learn from other’s mistakes instead of making your own.”

Nance wants SAGE to create an inclusive space for open dialogue and education on campus.

“There’s no reason to feel bad about moral choices,” Nance said. “SAGE is all positivity, all inclusive, all that good stuff.”

By Robert Specht on March 18th, 2014
for the Daily Nebraskan