Alondra Aguilar: Ignited Voices

Growing up in Napa, California was a blessing in ways I only came to understand after I moved to NYC. It is a beautiful town where everything seems to run smoothly and people profit enormously from making wine. I made the decision early to move to a place where I could find a vast ocean of opportunity and also order Chinese takeout past 9pm. After I moved to NYC, my view of Napa was shockingly altered. The ease which I thought I appreciated most about my hometown is what I now see as its greatest weakness. Not because I do not appreciate easy, but because the lack of debate and conversation stems out of ignorance and an active decision to avoid controversy.

fullsizeoutput_3cb8.jpeg

In school we hardly ever acknowledged the giant economic and social disparities between the white, affluent businessmen and the Hispanic laborers that makeup Napa. I never felt like I had a space to learn about or discuss these differences and how they affected my own Mexican family. I had an amazing, tight-knit group of friends, however, as daughters of CEOs and CFOs, they could not fully understand the problems and the stress that my family endured. The lack of conversation and education was something I experienced with sexual health too. My health ed class was taught by the football coach and for the unit on sex ed he merely projected a diagram of pink and blue dots that were all interconnected by thin lines. He used it to describe sexual relations: you sleep with everyone your partner has ever slept with. I know this sounds like a scene from Mean Girls but it’s true! It was a very important message, but without any education on STIs, HIV/AIDs, or sexual health, the message had minimal significance.

fullsizeoutput_3cb5.jpeg

While my friends and I refused to remain in the dark about sex by spending hours looking at Cosmopolitan articles, there was so much we were left in the dark about and had to learn through experience in college. During open discussions with girls in my sorority, I was surprised to learn this was a common trend among most of us. Given the resources, technology, and progressive ideology we have today, I think we owe it to future generations to do better. Girls should not have to learn about the symptoms of an STI or the stress and anxiety caused by an unhealthy relationship for the first time by going through it themselves. Of course, life is about learning from your experiences and making mistakes, but as women, we can do so much more to support, empower, and educate each other.

I found this value perfectly embodied through Ignited Voices, which I learned about through CU chapter cofounder and my incredible big, Marley McAliley (CC’20). Back in 2015, Elanie Paredes (BC’19) founded Ignited Voices after she realized the impact that the lack of sex education had on the people around her and was inspired to promote change through her training in mindfulness. Ignited Voices has become a non-profit organization that uses a body-mind-spirit model through a reproductive justice lens to educate and empower cis and trans women and gender nonconforming folks of color in the community.

Since joining last semester, I have formed an extraordinary love and passion for the work Ignited Voices has done. We celebrate every achievement, big or small, because we stand proudly for our values and goals. From providing workshops for high schoolers on a variety of topics (such as self-care,

mediation, and consent), to hosting discussions and panels for CU students on healthy relationships, we are constantly aiming to promote important conversations and necessary spaces for people to learn and offer their own ideas and beliefs. We strive for diversity and encourage engagement with the hope that people from underrepresented backgrounds can find a space to speak their minds and explore their own identities. This is an element I am especially proud of given it was something I could not find growing up.

While we are currently a small team, we are mighty. As we have worked to continue growing and become a recognized on-campus group, I have been blown away by the constant support and genuine interest so many women around me have shown for our work. Of course, forming connections and making progress has not been an easy feat for us, but stepping up to the challenge and creating some discomfort to promote important conversations has been a remarkable experience I am constantly grateful for.


Zehra Naqvi