Monday, June 10, 2013

Plan B on Campus/ in the World: Accessibility Rises

Laurel Prince
Target Publication: The Index
Word Count: 1011

On a Sunday morning during my first year at K, I walked 20 minutes with a friend to Walgreens, where she shelled out almost $50 for Plan B.

Two years ago, access to Emergency Contraception (EC) as a K College student was a very different story. Since then, EC has been brought into the national spotlight. On June 5th of this year, a federal appeals court ruled that all EC be sold without prescriptions to women of all ages. On K’s campus, members of S3A, Sexual Safety and Support Alliance have allowed EC to become highly accessible, providing the drug for $15 dollars, any day of the week, at any time.

Emergency Contraception aka the Morning-after Pill, also referred to by the brand name Plan B can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex: sex without birth control or sex where a birth control method failed.

The drug is used with relative frequency, in May of this year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “About 11 percent of sexually active women, or 5.8 million, used the pill between 2006 and 2010.”

Rachel Evans, a junior at K and one of the original members of S3A guided me through the story of Plan B on K’s campus. Evans quickly explained that the Campus Health Center, where the pill has always been offered for $15, doesn’t often work for students. She told me, “It’s a problem because they’re only open until 4 or 5 every day, and not on the weekends.”

S3A started selling the EC Next Choice at the beginning of the spring quarter, in March, amongst ongoing court cases regarding access to the drug. The group, whose missions include creating space for sexual assault survivors and providing support if students decide to pursue their attackers in the legal system, was asked by the Health Center and the Peer Health Advocates (PHA) to help raise accessibility to EC on campus.

Since S3A began selling EC, sales have increased by more than 50%. In spring quarter of 2012, 11 packs were sold. During spring quarter a year later, 28 packs were sold. Jennifer Combes, the Office Coordinator of the Health Center wrote in an email, “We didn’t track if a student received it from the student health center or one of the student groups, however I think the numbers indicate the effectiveness of student’s having access.”

Plan B One Step, and the generic version Next Choice, the leading Emergency Contraception options, are 89% effective if taken within the first 72 hours, and can remain effective for 5 days after sex, according to Planned Parenthood.

The crux of the problem of distributing Plan B on college campuses is simple: the drug is most effective in the hours after unprotected sex, oftentimes during the weekends or in the early morning hours when campus health centers are not open.

Evans explains how Plan B works on this campus: members of S3A, with an online and campus-wide presence, can opt in to carrying the pill, and hold one at a time. If a student contacts a member to receive the drug, they can pay cash or sign a form with options to pay with card in the Health Center of have the charge placed on their student account as “Health Center Bill.” The S3A member then brings the money or confirmation of payment to the Health Center to receive a new box. This means that each member can only distribute to one person during non-business hours, a possible concern. Evans cites selling 3 pills this quarter, and says almost every member has sold at least one pill.

The concerns regarding Plan B nationally, however, are not so simple. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Obama Administration and pro-life and pro-choice groups have been debating on the drug for months. Issues regarding the perception of EC as an abortion pill, age and prescription limits on the drug, and accessibility on University campuses have riddled these debates.

When I asked Evans about one of the major concerns surrounding EC, its perception as an abortion pill, she explained frankly that, “People still have this ridiculous conception that Plan B is an abortion pill, which if you’re pregnant, Plan B is not going to do anything.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health confirms Evan’s reasoning that that EC is not an abortion pill, nor does it have any lasting health impacts. They write on their website, “Emergency contraception works before pregnancy begins. It will not work if a woman is already pregnant.

Judge Edward Korman, who made the initial order to the FDA in April to distribute Plan B over-the-counter to women of all ages said, “These emergency contraceptives would be among the safest drugs sold over the counter.”

Shippensburg University, located in a small central Pennsylvanian town, gained national attention in January for an EC vending machine, which was eventually allowed by the FDA. At Shippensburg, questions were raised over the availability of the drug to non-University students or students under the previous FDA requirement of 17-years of age. The school policy became a debacle, ending in a requirement for students swipe their student ID before purchase, confirming both age and University enrollment.

Other campuses nationwide have the pill available through Health Centers, although the method of students selling the drug is rare. Several schools, including Harvard, allow women to receive the drug free of charge at campus health centers.

S3A members will sell to men and women, and Evans explained that they don’t keep track of names, just number of pills sold.

“We don’t tell even each other the names of the people. That’s something we debated about for a while, is it important to keep track if someone doing this every weekend? We decided that that’s everybody’s personal choice, there are no health problems associated with it. You can take it every weekend and that’s fine. People can take it every weekend if they want, it’s probably not the least expensive way to do that,” says Evans.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing Process

I included this link right off the bat to give everyone a sense of Jezebel, which is a Feminist-type blog, as well as give an example of another piece they've written about Plan B.

Alright, writing this piece. I've been feeling relatively confident thus far, easily conducting my first two interviews and enjoying the writing style that my target publication has allowed me. Although I'm sure I need plenty of feedback on how to make myself more witty, cool, whatever (I'll get to that later), I liked the sense of freedom and challenge that writing a slightly more non-traditional story involved. 

I want to note in regards to content, that what I am expecting will truly shape this piece is a planning meeting between S3A and students in regards to future endeavors and the possibility of a Sexual Assualt Support Group. This meeting occurs on Wednesday (exactly before our class workshop). With that being said, I am curious to each of your opinions on what is key in this piece. I was hoping to weave together several aspects of S3A's work, creating scenes and telling their story, but I'm still working this out, and the meeting seems crucial. What has popped out thus far? 

Additionally, I am curious as to the reactions to my own voice in the piece? Jezebel typically uses sassy/ funny/ sarcastic language, but doesn't always necessarily use the "I", which thus far I have included in my piece. I'm thinking this is going to become more key as the scene idea develops, but those are my main areas that I'm hoping for feedback.

See you in class!

This School has got your back: Plan B and Sexual Assault Support

Target Publication: Jezebel
Word Count: 805 (without event)

The US is obsessed with Plan B, Abortion and other such things right now (aka, as always) and the current debates have sparked us all. At one little school in the homey Midwest, Kalamazoo College, is pushing the trend with a new on-campus group: S3A. Which stands for Sexual Safety and Support Alliance, is avoiding all the ridiculous drugstore prices and has managed to get real live students to sell Plan B for 15 bucks!

Let me state that I indeed, attend the college, called “K” by its student, and despite not having bought Plan B myself, I did make a stressful trek with a friend in my first-year to get the pill. This is rockin’ for college students. Not just at Kalamazoo, but for every student that ever had to wasted dollars and time getting their hands on this pill.

As part of my investigation, this reporter called the nearest drugstore to K College- a full 18 minutes walk away- and then suffered through 11 minutes phone call to discover the pill costs 47 dollars and some change. A grand 32 dollars more than the campus group can sell it for.  

The group started selling the emergency contraception at the beginning of the spring trimester, in March, amongst the ongoing court cases regarding the FDA. Judge Edward Korman most recently ruled to have the drug carried on drugstore shelves to all women over the age of 15, which will stay in effect until the current appeal by the Justice Department is ruled upon.

Unlike other campuses like Shippensburg University, which gained national attention for a Plan B vending machine, K avoided many troubles by allowing students to sell the pill. At Shippensburg, questions were raised over the availability of the drug to non-University students or students under the previous FDA requirement of 17-years of age. The school now makes students swipe their student ID before purchase, and the price is still much higher than at K College, 25 dollars.

Rachel Evans, a Junior at K and one of the first members of S3A told me the campus Health Center, who has always offered the pill for that price, said: “It’s a problem because they’re only open until 4 or 5 every day, and not on the weekends.” (And, duh, on most college campuses, when do students have time for sex other than the weekends?)

S3A created after administrators decided the campus needed space for sexual assault survivors. Evans explains she and her 8 co-workers aim to: “Be an open ear for people and if people do want to do something about [sexual assault], like pursue it in the legal system or at school, we can help them with that.”

Morgan Mahdavi, another Junior at the school, is involved with a furthering of S3A’s mission, is hoping to capitalize on the schools open-mindedness. [Insert events of Wed’s meeting on a Sexual Assault support group planning meeting plus interview with Morgan-already conducted].

Wait, can we come back to that this campus is in the Mid-West? K College is only a couple hours south of “A baby dies every 10 seconds” and other overt anti-abortion and pro-life campaigners. As Evans, who is from Ann Arbor sums up: “This is a somewhat conservative side of the state at least, and I don’t know how comfortable people would be going to the drugstore.” Yet, for some strange and unknown reason, the students and some members of the administration for this kind of cutting edge discussion to occur on campus.

“These issues are coming to the forefront…it’s becoming something that a lot of people on campus are very comfortable talking about and able to discuss. It amazes me,” Mahdavi said, sitting in Biggby Coffee, the coffee joint hidden in a corner of K Colleges Library.

Even men, who are often excluded from discussions or understanding of sexual assault or are somehow perceived as outsiders in this discussion, are getting in the loop at K. During Take Back the Night (which every reader should know about), the yearly event where women speak up about sexual assault and march the streets to reclaim spaces typically seen as unsafe for women, a men’s group on the campus promoted an event to help men understand their role in the fight against sexual assault.

Mahdavi, who spoke about her own experiences with sexual assault at K’s Take Back the Night event on May 13th, said: “Men here are coming into consciousness and are able to discuss these things. Creating a place where this is normal and support is normal.”

We should all wish that our schools have a Plan B for us, because we’re learning, and sometimes we mess up. Oh wait, my school already does.