Castleton alumna Karsen Woods was honored by Planned Parenthood on Oct. 24 as one of two Choice Champions for her efforts in founding the Generation Action team at Castleton.
The award was announced at the Planned Parenthood Vt. Action Fund “Sex, Politics, and Cocktails” event.
“I am kind of speechless,” Woods said in a recent phone interview. “I was really excited, obviously, when they told me.”
Choice Champion awards honor the work of individuals who have helped protect and expand access to sexual and reproductive health care in Vermont.
“The process for choosing recipients for these awards is rigorous,” said Creston Lea, chair of the independent expenditure board for the organization. “These awardees really are our shining stars.”
The idea for bringing Generation Action to Castleton’s campus, however, came from a class that Woods took with Castleton professor Sanjukta Ghosh, Woods’ advisor.
“The course title was ‘Social Activism in the Media,’ and it was during the fall semester of last year, so a lot of politically charged messages were in the media,” Woods said. “We were in the midst of an election. Sanjukta, who knows me very well, knew that this would be something that I would want to do.”
That was where it began. According to Woods, the task was to organize an event under various nationally recognized organizations. For her, this was in the form of a club.
“I think I was the only student that actually went forward with student government, and the student body, and implemented this as a sustainable club,” Woods said.
Ghosh said Woods transformed herself over the course of her college career.
“The first time I met her, she had a lot of spirit, a lot of energy,” Ghosh said. “Her work was not that great, but I just loved her personality.”
In that first semester, Ghosh said she received complaints from other professors that Woods spent her time in class using her cell phone instead of focusing on class work.
“I talked to her, and that began the change in her,” Ghosh said, “I told her, ‘Never do I ever want to get a complaint like this about you,’ and she kept her promise. That was the start of the blossoming of Karsen.”
Ghosh said Woods did not use notes or any usual filler ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ that find their way into public speeches.
“She was a fabulous speaker,” Ghosh said.
According to current club president Sarah Liell, Generation Action is involved in social issues such as reproductive rights, transsexual rights, and equal rights for women.
To do this, they use events such as movie screenings, and bake sales. For example, their recent “Cake Pop Boobs Bake Sale,”in which the proceeds went to Planned Parenthood.
“I joined midway through last semester,” Liell said, “It was a small group…but it’s always been a small group of passionate individuals who are looking to make a positive difference in their communities, especially regarding women’s health.”
Liell said Woods has become a role model for her.
“She’s a very strong leader, and she provided wonderful leadership,” Liell said, “She sparks interest in everyone. She really sparks passion, and fire, and she’s really incredible, just the way she speaks.”
In January of this year, Woods and other members of Generation Action went to the Vt. State House for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade- the Supreme Court decision that justified a woman’s right to seek an abortion. The trip was rewarding, but also disappointing. According to Woods, Planned Parenthood introduces every year a ‘Roe v. Wade’ resolution, asking if they will support women’s constitutional right to access abortions. This time, 31 representatives that voted no.
“What they do is a roll call vote, so we can have on record which Vt. representatives from what towns and what counties support Planned Parenthood,” she said, “I was expecting a lot of yesses, and a lot of positive engagement, and I was really shocked by the nasty, cruel, and very small-minded things that some of our representatives had to say.”
According to Woods, it is important for students to be aware of Planned Parenthood, which is located 25 minutes away from campus, referencing an article from the Castleton Spartan in April of 2017, which revealed that the local hospital, Rutland Regional Medical Center, does not accept the university’s insurance plan.
“Castleton needs to be telling its students that they can receive care at the Planned Parenthood that is also located in Rutland,” Woods said, “They can receive essential health care there.”
To Woods, Planned Parenthood is a health care center, one that won’t turn anyone away.
“It’s a safe and comfortable place,” Woods said, “When I was young, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I was borderline really suicidal.”
She went to her pediatrician, and told them during her physical of those thoughts.
“I instantly regretted it,” she said, “I was met with judgement.”
When she went to Planned Parenthood a couple of years later to get tested, she was scared. She didn’t want to answer any questions truthfully. But there, her experience was different.
“I was met with such compassion and open arms. Nobody ever assumed who my partner was or wasn’t,” Woods said, “They asked me questions with a smile. They helped me engage in healthy conversation.”
Ghosh said she is proud of Woods for being honored as a Choice Champion.
“I am bursting with pride,” she said, “I feel I’m her mother, I’m her father, I’m her older sister, not just her professor. I’m just bursting with that maternal pride, because she’s my child, my sister, my daughter that I don’t have. I’m just bursting with pride.”