Meet Ileana Moreno, Feminist Club President and UTRGV-TV Reporter

How does Ileana Moreno find the time? In addition to being a UTRGV mass communication senior, she also manages to juggle her two passions: journalism and activism. She’s a part-time reporter for UTRGV-TV and president of The Feminist Club. For our Women’s Empowerment Week, Her Campus caught up with the 24-year-old to talk about her work as a student activist, feminism, how men can be better allies, among other topics.

What inspired you to become a student activist?

I would say that I've always been passionate about the subject. Just different situations in my life. In high school, just seeing my friends who had abortions or had been raped and didn't know how to come forward or would be shunned because of something like that or a situation like that. At that age, when I was 17 years old or something like that, I couldn't really comprehend ... I knew that them being ridiculed or slut-shamed—I knew it was wrong. I didn't know the depth of gender roles or anything like that until I came to college. And that's when I decided that I really wanted to make a difference, so that's when I changed my minor to Gender and Women’s Studies.

You're currently the president of The Feminist Club. How long have you been involved with the organization?

My advisor, Dr. Cathryn Merla-Watson, she's a Mexican American Studies professor here at the university and an English professor, I believe. I had her for a Mexican American class last spring, I believe. And at the end of the semester, she asked me if I would be interested in taking the role of president of The Feminist Club. It was inactive at the time, so she and I reinstated the club and got everything going.

Members of The Feminist Club Andrea Juarez (left), Ashley Garza (center) and President Ileana Moreno attend the Student Involvement Fair on the Chapel Lawn at the Edinburg campus on Feb. 6

Photo: Ileana Moreno

Is she a mentor of yours?

Yes, absolutely. She knows that I want to go to law school after I graduate, so she's helped me a lot with LSAT [Law School Admission Test] stuff. I'm really grateful for her in that respect. Also, she's really passionate about what do we do in the club; not only feminism for students but also for people of color and women of color. She's really passionate about that and helps us exercise our beliefs.

What does feminism mean to you?

To me, feminism is the equality of the sexes. I think it's a common misconception that feminists are just raging women who are pissed off all the time and are like, "don't open the door for me," or whatever. If you wear makeup, you can be a feminist. If you’re a girl and you like girls, you can be a feminist. If you’re a boy, you can be a feminist. Feminism is the belief of two sexes—that we’re equal.

How does the Feminist Club combat misconceptions about feminism?

Well, it's difficult because there's a lot of misogyny everywhere, right? What I've seen here on campus are these patriarchal gender roles ... gendered expectations. That’s the word. Women were supposed to grow up, learn how to cook, clean, have children and be really good mothers that are just home all the time. And so, I think that with our culture sometimes it kind of gets lost that women can to do so much more than just those things but are also able to take the responsibility of taking care of the kids.

Besides women’s rights, what are other issues The Feminist Club tackles on campus or in the community?

This semester we've been doing a lot of work with DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. So, it's feminism, but it's also protecting women of color and students of color on campus who are under DACA; who are scared to do anything. They just go to their classes and go back to their dorms. And with March 5 [DACA deadline] just passing, it’s something we've been really, really adamant about. We've been really active on that meeting with the SGA, the Student Government Association.

Ileana Moreno, The Feminist Club president, holds up a sign that reads “¡Aquí Estamos y Nos Quedamos” (We are Here and Here to Stay) prior to Feb. 9’s Student Government Association meeting, in which she pleaded members to approve a resolution for the creation of a DREAM Center.

Photo: Ileana Moreno

We also work closely with LUCHA [La Unión Chicanx Hijxs de Aztlán]. They meet with SGA. They have discussions about DACA. They want to have a DREAM Center here at the university for students. That's something that our club has taken an initiative in. A topic we're all really passionate about. Even though all of us are feminists, we're also here at school—at UTRGV—and our peers and our friends are these DACA students. Because our club is intersectional, it's a topic that concerns us. So, that’s one of biggest things we are working on. Also, The Feminist Club is helping URGE [Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity] and other clubs with Pads for Pals, which is a petition that's been going around collecting signatures to show to the administration that there should be free menstrual products available for students here at UTRGV.

What are your goals for The Feminist Club for the rest of the semester?

Well, last semester we worked closely with Catholic Charities of the RGV, which is where the refugees from Latin American countries go to in downtown McAllen to receive clothing and food. We donated a lot of women's menstrual supplies, clothing and underwear to them. A lot of people forget that women go in there and it's just a 15-year-old girl with two twin babies, you know what I mean? And there aren't diapers or anything like that for them, so we donated a lot of stuff. And we also volunteered there. This semester we wanted to work with Mujeres Unidas, which is a nonprofit organization, where they help abused women here in the Valley. So, that's something I wanted to do. And that's with the community.

But within the university, I really want to start something that has to do with campus rape. And I know that it's something that is—I would say—prevalent here in the university. A lot of people don't talk about it. A lot of girls don't know how to report it. Sometimes they don't even know if they've been raped. A lot of victims get shamed into being confused or not knowing what rape is and what isn't. What consent is. Today [March 8] we [The Feminist Club] were part of a consent fair that was in the Student Union. So, that was nice—to teach other people about consent. Seeing groups like URGE and Access for Sex-Education doing their part to ensure that the students of UTRGV know what to do in a situation like that. So, that's something that I wanted to take into consideration. We also share a Tumblr account [“No Soy Tu Mamacita”] created by UTRGV students for UTRGV students to post anonymously about their negative experiences; about things that have happened to them on campus.

“Created by UTRGV students for UTRGV students,” the Tumblr account “No Soy Tu Mamacita” gives students a platform to share their stories of sexual harassment anonymously.

Graphic: Ileana Moreno 

You're also a reporter for UTRGV-TV. Has your involvement with The Feminist Club influenced the types of stories you cover as a reporter?

It has given me an outlet that I’m passionate about. I get to elaborate on stories that I'm passionate about, like Pads for Pals; I did a story on it, and I was really happy to be able to give the platform and exposure to that initiative because it's really important to me. And I think that if I wasn't a reporter I probably wouldn't have been able to do that. There are times when I find it difficult because, of course, being a reporter, you can’t be biased. You can’t give your opinion. And so, in that respect, sometimes I want to kind of go off the rails and stuff. But I know that I can't. So, for the most part, it's a great feeling to be able to exude what I think is important and what students should know about.

In the last few months, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shined a light on the systemic prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in various fields. What advice do you have for men who want to be better allies?

Some advice I’d give is to kind of have guys be aware that these gender roles and these gendered expectations are very much relevant here even today. These gender roles are ingrained in our lives through culture, through our parents, through the church. Pretty much everywhere. And so, I would say that the first thing—the first step would be to recognize those gender roles and know that they aren’t valid. Women can do anything that men can do. I would say that's the first step. Also, realizing that rape culture goes beyond being raped: it's catcalling, and it's sending unsolicited nude pictures. Anything like that is part of rape culture. So, taking all those things into account would be a good start for a guy who wants to be a feminist ally, I would say.

What advice do you have for students who want to participate in civic engagement?

I would say try and get involved. Go to VLink and check out the clubs that you like. You can email them or follow them on social media to find out more. If you have this gut feeling or something that you believe in really hard, and you don't know how or where to start? Just start because you're never going to be ready. The sooner you make a difference, the better. It's always a fight. That's my advice. You're always going to have people who try to mock what you stand for; there are a lot of guys that have come to our tables at Involvement Fairs and make sexist remarks while we're there. Some people will never get it, right? But I think the point is to empower the people who do get it and try to put the people who don't understand that much ... try to explain to them that's not okay the way that women are represented most of the time.

For more information, email The Feminist Club at [email protected] or look for them on VLink. You can also follow them on Instagram at utrgvfemclub.