Letter to the Editor: Not my Mizzou - a letter from Dina van der Zalm

“I demand autonomy over both my body and my education, and I will fight for both.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a letter to the editor written by a member of the MU community who is not part of The Maneater’s staff. It is not the opinion of The Maneater or its editorial board. In accordance with our letters policy, we publish every letter submitted to us barring personal attacks or hate speech; we welcome responses to this and everything we publish via a letter or in our comments section.

In 2013, I was drawn to MU for graduate school to become a Paul D. Coverdell Fellow, having been awarded a nationwide fellowship named after a distinguished MU alum. I was proud to win the fellowship coveted by Peace Corps volunteers around the world and to come to an institution that valued my intelligence and dedication to and passion for community service. Moving here without knowing anyone, I felt a connection to this campus and through its ties to my mother, an MU alumna herself. Through the contract and relationships between Planned Parenthood and the School of Social Work, I was thrilled to get a placement with Planned Parenthood for the community service commitment of my fellowship. I merely wanted a foot in the door at an organization that I have admired and aspired to work with for years. Planned Parenthood has been an important staple of the Columbia community for 80 years, and it is an organization that upholds both Peace Corps and MU values. I did not know that my time at Planned Parenthood would change my professional trajectory.

Today, I am positioned to graduate next spring with two master's degrees, both focused on policy and advocacy. I am going into my second year as a chair of the Missouri Public Health Advocacy Coalition, and I will be pursuing jobs in the advocacy and political arenas after graduation. I would be remiss to imagine I would be here without the privilege of working as a legislative intern and volunteer at Planned Parenthood, which exposed me to grassroots advocacy and the legislative process and helped me build my professional network in a way I could have never achieved alone.

My now-discontinued fellowship has ended, but my relationship with Planned Parenthood cannot be shaken. The rage I feel that other students will not be afforded this invaluable, life-changing opportunity cannot be captured by words. I am proud that the School of Social Work maintains its contract with Planned Parenthood, but I am irate that others are no longer permitted to seek the educational experiences they desire. By severing this relationship, MU is telling students, both undergraduate and graduate, that those of us wishing to work with Planned Parenthood are not informed enough to choose our own preceptors, denying us credit if we wish to learn from this respected health care provider. For someone who has worked in reproductive rights advocacy for a few years, that message is all too familiar. It mirrors what legislators have been telling women for far too long: We aren’t informed enough to make decisions about our bodies. Only in this case, it insults our minds and impacts our future careers. Without comparable organizations under which to study, graduates will enter the workforce unprepared for real world experiences, and a handful of elected officials and our institution share the blame for restricting our exposure. I demand autonomy over both my body and my education, and I will fight for both.

The decisions coming out of MU for the last several months have increased burdens on graduate students without consulting us, the ones most affected by these top-down decisions, and reflect a new trend that I cannot support in any way. This is not my Mizzou or the Mizzou my mother described to me. Recent actions tell me that my school no longer values my contributions or even my right to choose my own path. If this continues, why would any potential graduate student look twice at MU?

Dina van der Zalm, djv7x5@mail.missouri.edu MSW/MPH Candidate, University of Missouri

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