Formidable Females: Josy Jablons

When it comes to formidable females, sophomore Josy Jablons has more than lived up to the title. Not only is she president of NYU's very own "Students For Sexual Respect", but she also holds a Women's Rights Internship position at the National Organization For Women in New York City.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jablons on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Everyman Espresso. We spoke about the problem of gender-based violence and the ways in which colleges are (and are not) attempting to tackle the issue. However, with the onset of student activist clubs whose priorities lie in spreading awareness and ensuring a safe place for its fellow students, NYU seems to be moving in the right direction. 

HC NYU: What is your major and where are you from?

JJ: I'm a sophomore from San Francisco. My major is Creative Activism—looking at the role of arts in public policy. 

HC NYU: I know you were originally majoring in Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of Arts. Why did you decide to transfer to Gallatin School of Individualized Study?

JJ: I loved Tisch, but it is very pigeonholed. It is for a very specific niche of students. If you want to work at Hollywood or entertainment, it's perfect and it's going to get you there 100%. But after a year, I realized that wasn't what I wanted to do. I love writing, but I don't want to be a screenwriter—that's not the route I want to take. I wanted something more community focused, focused on how we can use writing to further activist movements. Academically, it wasn't right for me. I have a collective range of interests and Gallatin is perfect for that. I also like the idea of working with one faculty member for four years because they are completely on your side and they really mentor you. My academic adviser focuses on Feminist Theater and I've become very close to her. I meet with her on a biweekly basis just to talk about life.

HC NYU: When did you begin to consider yourself an advocate for women's rights?

JJ: I don't know that I ever had a moment of like, awakening. It just coalesced naturally, but it wasn't something that I started to actively pursue until last year. I was writing a lot about it [women's rights] and it was a major theme in all of my work, but I didn't enter the community and try to make change until this past summer and into sophomore year. I fell in line with a lot of students who are passionate about activism in general from SLAM [Student Labor Activist Movement at NYU], Queer Union, which is a huge activist community, and a lot of students up at Columbia and Barnard who are doing similar things. It's been great to collaborate and create that network, which I think is really important, especially in New York City. Because we're a very diverse network, we've been able to wedge ourselves into talking with Governor Cuomo's office. We are also trying to help out with legal legislation in terms of sexual assault on campus. We're working with Tish James [Letitia James] who is the public advocate for New York City. A lot of NYU's administration is happy to work with us. They really want students' input; they want to be collaborating. 

HC NYU: Tell us a little about "Students For Sexual Respect" at NYU. What inspired you to start your club? 

JJ: It [sexual respect] was something that I found lacking at NYU—lacking in the conversation, lacking in the representation, everything. I think NYU could do better in implementing programs, but in a sense they are: they are doing their best to implement programs in making sure student safety is the priority. "Students For Sexual Respect" is entirely student-run and student-led, but it is endorsed by the university. We are provided a budget and we do work with the Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service. Although we are a safe space for victims and survivors of sexual assault, our work in general is in collaborating with the administration in terms of advocating for policy reform. We've worked with groups like SAFER [Students Active For Ending Rape], which is a non-profit group in New York City and Know Your IX, which is a non-profit started by Columbia graduates.

HC NYU: What was the process like of creating the club?

JJ: It was a really arduous process to establish the club. We had to apply to become a student organization at the school; that's something that I worked on in August and September. We were officially ratified around December. The process was slow at first because I could only rally around four people at this school who really wanted to pursue this. There are a lot of people now who are eager to get involved, but it is a really big task to start from the ground up. People here are busy and that is a lot to take on. Now that we are more established, it's become easier to delegate tasks and create a community. 

HC NYU: What are your goals for this semester?

JJ: We're analyzing our own policy at NYU and how to advocate for reform that is meaningful to us. Now that we have more concrete demands in place, our goal for the next six months is to push those demands through. Although we meet regularly with people who are involved in creating change from a higher level, the other part of the club is basic awareness and campaign running. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We have three or four big campaigns in the works, one of which is a photo project and one of which is a Sex-Ed [Sex Education] program. Sex in general is really taboo and not really talked about. Also, because 20% of our student body is international and people are coming from different backgrounds, the talk is vastly different for everyone. This, semester we're really focusing on Sex-Ed and how to promote and ignite conversations about that. 

HC NYU: Do you think "Students For Sexual Respect" has been beneficial so far in teaching NYU students about sexual respect and gender-based violence?

JJ: I think it's brought more attention and awareness to sexual respect. I would say, give me four more months and it will increase exponentially. I want to make Sexual Assault Awareness Month a huge deal. In the past years, we've had Gender-based Violence Week, but it was more like three days and only a couple students pushing hard. Now, I think there is more administrative support. We're working on a lot of things that will kind of wake up the NYU community to the fact that just because there are 12 reported sexual assaults, that is a red flag. That is not a good thing. That means people do not have a safe space to speak out. We're also going to start holding pretty regular meetings to bring in more students who are interested in policy analysis, which is complicated. It's a lot of legal vernacular and it's very dense. If you are a survivor and you are immediately faced with all these complex reporting processes, it's horrifying. There are a lot of things that need to be worked out, but they can be done. 

HC NYU: You recently took an internship position at NOW-NYC (National Organization For Women in New York City). What is that like?

JJ: It's awesome. I love it. I've been interning since freshman year all over the place and this one is my favorite. It is a Women's Rights Internship so I'm working hands on with certain campaigns that we're doing in terms of reproductive justice and domestic violence. I run a lot of the communications, so all of the social media. Right now, we are working on a big gala called the "Women of Power and Influence" so we're trying to find people to nominate and grant this award to. It's going to be a huge event in the beginning of June. Another thing I do is help with divorce clinics for women who are just starting out in the process and don't know how to begin. I also assist with events and programs run by activists who come in. Lastly, I run the help line. We get a lot of calls from victims of domestic violence, people who need resources to Pro bono representation and who need legal counsel advice. It's pretty harrowing, but you hang up the phone and you're like, "Wow. This feels really good." It's a really humble and supportive environment. It's also small, so I'm working right alongside the president of NOW-NYC, whom I am so in awe of and look up to. I've only been working for a month, but I can't imagine leaving anytime soon.

HC NYU: If you had one piece of advice to give to college students, what would it be?

JJ: I think a lot of students go to college with the exact mentality of what they want to do and that is fantastic—I definitely did that when I applied to Tisch. It's a small program, it's a BFA program and you know what you're getting yourself into. But, you're 17. At NYU, there is this competitive aspect to everything: we need to know what we want, work really hard and go for it. That attitude is great and I'm inspired by everything my friends do, but I also think this is college and you should try other things. You should take a class that you wouldn't normally take because who knows what you'll fall in love with? Don't put so much pressure on yourself; I have to remind myself of that all the time.