On the Sunday after the presidential election, Lucy Ellman ’19 had an idea. She raced to her friend Isabel Furman ’19, who, like many Vassar students, was attempting to process the election’s results. “Both of us were overcome with a feeling of helplessness and knew that we wanted to do something,” Furman remembered. “Lucy suggested that since we were both passionate about music and Planned Parenthood, we combine these two things…and help.” For three months, the two planned their “Your Body Your Voice: A Benefit Concert for Planned Parenthood,” which occurred last Thursday, Feb. 16 in the Villard Room. This event treated students to a night of good food, empowering performances and information about an important cause.
At the door, representatives from various student organizations collected a three dollar minimum donation from students who wished to enter. All proceeds went directly to Planned Parenthood (PP), a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services to over 2.5 million people each year. Once inside, students visited informational booths, grabbed a bite to eat or sat back, soaked in the ambiance of the dimly lit room and enjoyed their peers’ performances.
Public Affairs Coordinator for Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley Ashley Casale operated one of the booths. At her table, students could write thank you notes to Planned Parenthood’s Health Center staff. They could also take free drink covers, condoms, magnets and “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” buttons. Casale said that she was very excited to be at Vassar, commenting, “When [Furman] contacted me, I immediately agreed to come. I wanted to set up a table to provide students with information about Planned Parenthood Mid Hudson Valley…I hope that students [signed]-up with their email addresses and [learned] about different ways to get involved.”
Vassar’s Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Program (SAVP) and CARES also ran booths. At the SAVP booth, representatives from the organization led an activity that they offered at the previous week’s YES! Resource fair. During this activity, SAVP leaders read students a consent-related scenario and asked them to classify it as either “red light,” “green light” or “yellow light.” Students discussed their answers and received aromatherapy Play-Doh for participating. At the CARES booth, org leaders had students brainstorm what they value in a relationship. Students wrote their answers on paper hearts that will eventually hang in the Old Bookstore.
Furman expressed her appreciation for the involvement of organizations such as CARES and SAVP in planning the event. She commented, “At first [Ellman and I] wondered if we could organize the concert ourselves. Very quickly, we realized that we couldn’t. We contacted [the Campus Health Organization for Information, Contraception, and Education] (CHOICE), CARES, SAVP, Feminist Alliance, the Women’s Center and the Women’s Studies Department. We wanted to work with our peers…All of the orgs really took to the project … I am proud how passionately people rose to the occasion.”
Student performers also contributed to the concert’s success. Vassar femme and female-identifying artists filled the setlist, an important aspect of the evening for Furman. “[Ellman and I] wanted all of the performers to be femme or female-identifying to promote women’s solidarity,” she explained. “As a female in the music industry, I feel like women often do not have enough voice in music on this campus. This concert was meant to simultaneously promote women in music and reproductive rights.”
Furman kicked off the performances, playing a few songs. As she leaped onto the stage, her awe at the crowd’s enthusiasm was apparent. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said. “Lucy and I have been planning this event since November and it’s crazy that it is actually happening.”
When asked why she to chose to perform at the concert, Furman explained that it was not her original plan. “[Ellman and I] considered performing for a while,” she remembered. “We asked ourselves, ‘do we want to have roles of musicians in this?’ I originally didn’t…I wanted to give others a chance. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, though, I woke up Thursday morning and found out that I needed to perform. I didn’t even have a chance to rehearse my set…I’m glad that it worked out…It was an incredibly gratifying feeling.”
After Furman sang, she announced that there would be five minute breaks between each performance. During this time, students could stop at the informational tables, grab a slice a pizza or a garlic knot or visit the photo booth. Many students wandered around and chatted with friends, enjoying the concert’s relaxed atmosphere.
After the break, the Vassar Night Owls took the stage, performing three pieces including Doris Day’s “Dream a Little Dream of me.” Following them, Vanessa Achoy ’19 sang four songs, two originals and two covers. The group Townsperson B performed a set. Vanessa Rosensweet ’19 read three original poems. Measure 4 Measure then performed. One of their songs was Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.”
Furman then invited Casale up to the microphone to speak to students about Planned Parenthood. In her talk, Casale emphasized ways that students could get involved with the organization. She began by reminding the audience that leaders in Washington are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood. She then said that people must resist. “When Planned Parenthood is under attack,” she asked, “What do we do? We fight back.” She added, “This concert is an excellent way of fighting back…Now, I’m here to tell you other about ways to help.”
Casale urged students to donate to Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley, wear Planned Parenthood gear around campus, participate in events such as last weekend’s counter protest and schedule their health care visits at PP. Most importantly, Casale encouraged students to share their Planned Parenthood stories. She said, “We need to destigmatize abortion. It’s really important that you get your stories out there about why Planned Parenthood is important to you.”
After Casale, the night concluded with performances by Nicole Lipman ’19 and the a cappella group Home Brewed. Students who attended the show were blown away by their peers’ work. Emma Butensky ’18 commented, “I came to this event because I really appreciate the work that Planned Parenthood does and the services that it provides. I’ve been really impressed by the tables that students put together and all of the performances.” Matthew Brill-Carlat ’19 echoed Butensky’s thoughts, remarking, “It’s nice to be reminded how talented everybody is.”
After the concert, Furman experienced many emotions. She mused, “It was the most exhilarating, exhausting and overwhelming thing that I have ever done. I collapsed on the Villard Room floor when it was finished.” After a moment of reflection she added, “The biggest feeling that I’m experiencing right now is pride. I didn’t expect to be this proud, not just of myself, but of the community who came out to support. I’m proud of the response we got. I’m proud of the musicians…I’m proud of all the people that we worked with.”
Furman hopes that this concert will not be the last time Vassar works with Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley. “I would definitely love to see more local engagement,” she commented. “We talk about feminism, women’s health, sexual health and reproductive rights, and a lot of orgs do amazing work, but I would love to see less talk and more action. I see this concert as the beginning of a relationship between Vassar and Planned Parenthood. We are popping the Vassar bubble. I hope members of the community become more active, including myself.”