RSO Spotlight: Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance

'Don't mess with this group of women,' Julie Alexander said

On a gray October afternoon, Ferris students were given bloody reminders of the state of women’s rights in Big Rapids.

Roe v. Wade and the county’s only Planned Parenthood location had both been lost to history. But on this day, across from the graphic images known as “abortion victim photography” stood a new group of students.

They lifted signs reading “My body, my choice” and gathered a crowd of over 30 students in front of the David L. Eisler Center. They are the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

The beginning

The National Organization for Women was an activist group at Ferris that went dormant during the pandemic. The campus went months without having a feminist group until a Ferris chapter of the FMLA, a national organization, opened shortly after Roe V. Wade was overturned. Meetings are now held in FLITE 214 on Mondays at 5:15 p.m.

FMLA president and social work sophomore Samara Tyus helped with the launch of the feminist group alongside the other founding officers. During the first meeting, the officer positions were filled and the FMLA was born.

Without the FMLA, Ferris’ campus lacked a strong feminist voice. Current students are familiar with periodic pro-life demonstrations that rarely include opposing views.

“In Big Rapids, it’s very easy to feel isolated and to think that you’re the only one who thinks the way you do,” FMLA advisor Julie Alexander said. “And seeing [the] FMLA out in the community and seeing them at the Women’s March is helpful, not just for Ferris, but for the Big Rapids community as well.”

As director of accessibility and disability services, Alexander is highly involved around campus, but she is most proud to be associated with the FMLA. She believes the women of the group are “amazing leaders and collaborators.”

“Don’t mess with this group of women,” Alexander said.

Alexander sees the FMLA as a way to unite all women in a time of need. To her, there are many women out there who “need the camaraderie” to remember that they aren’t alone.

“I think we’re really responding to a need that women have on campus because, as we see it, [there’s] a rollback on women’s rights,” Alexander said.

Tyus didn’t expect to find herself leading a feminist group in Big Rapids. Her vice presidency in the group was cut short after a founding officer stepped down after one semester. As president, Tyus feels she was “thrown into it in a good way.” The group has helped her realize her own leadership abilities, and she expects it to do the same for others.

“I hope that other people can start to see themselves as a leader, as an activist and as a feminist,” Tyus said.

Criminal justice sophomore Ayanna Curry first explored the world of feminism as one of the FMLA’s first Black members. After seeing a group of Ferris feminists in front of the David L. Eisler Center demonstrate in the name of a woman’s right to choose, she followed FMLA flyers all the way to FLITE 214. She now considers it another safe space for her to speak without fear of judgment or shame.

“I feel like [the] FMLA also has that platform for people that have atypical voices to the city of Big Rapids,” Curry said. “[The] FMLA is the platform for taboo conversations.” 

Supporting the voices of students like Curry has been a goal of Tyus’ since she first ascended to the presidency.

Beyond white feminism 

Tyus believes the group continues to become more diverse. At the very first meeting, she was the only person of color in the room. As a person of mixed race, she prioritized diversifying the group.

“What I really like about [Tyus] as a leader is how intentional she is about making sure that the group has diverse voices,” Alexander said. “I love the relationship with [You Beautiful Black Woman] and seeing more people from that group coming in and being part of [the] FMLA.”

In honor of Black History Month, Tyus arranged for the FMLA to host a conversation about white feminism. As explained during the conversation, white feminism refers to activism that excludes the voices of women from minority groups.

The purpose of this conversation was to “keep [members] in check” and informed on the experiences of non-white women. Tyus has noticed a change in tone during FMLA meetings since inviting members of cultural groups to join.

“A lot of people say they’ve never seen themselves as a feminist because they were always Black first,” Tyus said. “I thought it was just amazing to hear people say that they now see themselves as a Black feminist.”

To biology freshman and YBBW member Tyra Draper, a feminist is a strong and opinionated woman. As she just attended her first meeting this month, Draper is proud to add to the diversity of the group but believes there’s always room for more.

“It really is important because a lot of people’s stories are different in many shapes, sizes [and] sounds and being one Black person isn’t always enough,” Draper said.

Both Draper and Curry encourage adding more voices to the on-campus conversation surrounding intersectional feminism.

“[The FMLA is] about giving and receiving knowledge about feminism and the different types of feminism, how men can be feminists, how Black women can be feminists — it’s not a white woman thing,” Curry said. “I feel like every feminist is a resilient person because you got to fall and get back up.”

Growth and awareness  

During one of the most recent meetings, the FMLA introduced a new storytelling series. The group visited Ferris’ Museum of Sexist Objects to find pieces that spoke to them. Throughout the rest of the semester, members will use their experience in the museum to write personal journal entries about their own lives as women.

For many, this was their first visit to the MOSO. Misogynistic relics from the near and distant past lined the walls. These include political merchandise, children’s toys and objectifying clothing. One section is devoted to offensive t-shirts, proudly proclaiming phrases like “Don’t say no, just say ho” and “Loud wives lose lives.”

Surrounded by hundreds of years’ worth of sexist history, Tyus focused on the future of the FMLA. She is looking forward to years of growth and awareness for Ferris feminists.

Find the FMLA on Bulldog Connect or Instagram @ferrisfmla to get involved.