To ‘SURJ’ or to ‘SURF’? The Political Symbolism of Naming an Organization

Layla Entriken

Abstract


From the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2014, one of Tulane University’s few reproductive health organizations, Vox, underwent significant organizational changes. In response to the Louisiana legislature’s attempts to shut down the state’s remaining abortion clinics, the executive board members of Vox disassociated from the Planned Parenthood student organization to create a more politically active group. Subsequently, differences of ideological perspectives and personal conflicts within the executive board made the creation of a new organization increasingly difficult. Some members wanted to identify as Students United for Reproductive Justice (SURJ) while others identified as Students United for Reproductive Freedom (SURF). Each name carried its own ideological influences and histories. Exemplary of the many challenges associated with social movements, the SURF v. SURJ dilemma showcases an organizational desire to remain ideologically relevant, potentially at the expense of efficacy. Vox’s shift from a Planned Parenthood affiliated organization to a politically autonomous group exemplifies many of the difficulties that organizations face when tasked with creating a new name, ideological framework, and objectives. This case will explore why and how Vox’s leadership attempted to address these difficult questions of organizational identity. Furthermore, this case serves as a microcosm of the increasingly national awareness of the complexities and intersectionality pertaining to women’s health issues as well as debates pertaining to feasible and effective responses to these issues.

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