A young man with a mop of curly brown hair approached my table. Before I could say anything he blurted out, “If a girl tells me I have really pretty blue eyes, is that a sign that she likes me? How should I ask her out?” He blinked and rocked on his heels. I paused, taken aback by his question. Regaining composure, I responded slowly, “Unfortunately, I do not know the situation so I can not answer your question. If you do decide to ask her out, practice consent. Consent is mutual and enthusiastic!” Although the young man did not seem fully pleased by my answer, he thanked me, slipped a condom into his pocket, and shuffled away.
Working with Planned Parenthood this semester has garnered a plethora of new surprises and challenges. The interaction with the young man occurred when I was tabling for Planned Parenthood at the Walla Walla Community College. The event was inspired by Valentine’s Day and run by coalition of volunteers from the YWCA, Planned Parenthood, and Walla Walla Community College. Each organization set up themed booths that focused on consent and dating violence—there was even a kissing booth! Unlike the problematic Netflix original of the same name, however, this kissing booth was centered on teaching people how to ask for consent. Answers were naturally rewarded with chocolate kisses wrapped in crinkly purple foil. At my table, my supervisor, Taylor, laid out an elaborate spread of maple bars, chapstick, and contraceptives. I led several activities, including a true-or-false game that focused on shattering misconceptions surrounding dating violence. During the morning that I volunteered, I met hundreds of students and faculty; some wonderful and some strange.
Before I began volunteering at the local schools, I was worried that my work would not be well received in the rural red seat of Walla Walla. Much to my surprise and delight, however, I have experienced continual support and interest in Planned Parenthood. Students came up to me, some shyly clinging onto their partners’ sleeves, eager to learn about consent. Older women confided in me how they had been personally helped by Planned Parenthood in the ’80s. Young men swaggered up to my booth and stuffed their sweatshirt pockets with colorful condoms. (Hey, at least they are practicing safe sex!). I love tabling because it is an incredible opportunity to engage with the local community and you truly never know what is going to happen.
This semester, I have tabled, entered volunteer data, and joined meetings with Planned Parenthood higher-ups. There are new challenges looming on the horizon, however. The Trump administration has just issued the Gag Rule, which critically endangers informed medical care. Washington state legislation is also working to pass a bill which would mandate comprehensive sex education in all K-12s. I know that in the final months of my fellowship, I will continue to learn, advocate, and fight for reproductive justice. And perhaps, hand out a few condoms along the way.