Students and organizers gather around a table with rally materials. A banner hanging from the table reads
Students and Unionize UNL organizers interact at a table set up for a bodily autonomy rally on Thursday Oct. 6, 2022, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by Macy Byars/NNS.

More than 50 UNL students walked out of classes, labs and workplaces the morning of Oct. 6 to attend a rally for bodily autonomy organized by Unionize UNL.  

Around 11:15 a.m., protesters gathered outside the student union to listen to speakers, pick up flyers and engage with like-minded peers.  

Unionize UNL is a graduate student worker union that aims to improve working conditions and negotiations for those who work on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s campus.  

Graduate student worker unions nationwide held rallies and walkouts Oct. 6 as part of a National Day of Action for Bodily Autonomy. 

Sociology graduate student Katelynn Shadoan, a member of Unionize UNL’s steering committee, defined bodily autonomy for about 50 protestors from the steps of the Union. 

“Bodily autonomy means more than just abortion access,” Shadoan said. “It means health care access for all, it means food access for all.”

Shadoan encouraged students to push back against homophobia, transphobia, police surveillance, food insecurity and sexual violence.  

“We will not stand by and let anyone dictate through laws and violence who we should be, how we should act and how we should be allowed to change our bodies,” she said.   

Shadoan talked about two specific struggles on UNL’s campus. The student food pantry, Husker Pantry, now requires students to order a week in advance, forgoing their old on-demand system. According to Shadoan, the change was made without notifying students and is unacceptable for those struggling with food insecurity. 

Organizers handed out flyers with the food pantry’s information and urged attendees to spread the word about the change.

Husker Pantry has not responded for comment on the change.

Shadoan’s fellow graduate student workers also went a month without life-saving health care after learning their coverage was not automatically renewed through their university employers. 

Steering committee member Kathleen Dillon said Unionize UNL chose to protest on campus because of state and local issues with bodily autonomy.  

“This is where we work, so this is where we’re taking our stand,” Dillon said.  

Dillon and other union members offered zines and buttons to interested students. Available zines included information about transgender healthcare and the legality of abortion in Nebraska. 

Dillon also cited the recent Roe v. Wade ruling as a reason for her union to act.  

“Unions exist to make sure workers have autonomy over their lives,” she said. “Reproductive rights matter for labor rights. They matter for the labor movement.” 

Students from Turning Point USA, a politically conservative group, also arrived at the Union to share their viewpoints. 

Parker Megrue, UNL’s campus coordinator for Turning Point USA, said his group came to create a well-rounded discussion.  

“I think there’s so much in the culture war where people disagree with each other,” Megrue said. “It’s about opening up lanes of communication so people can see each other as humans.” 

The two groups largely kept to themselves for the duration of the rally. Counter-protesters stayed at the top of the Union’s steps while protesters engaged with each other close to the street. 

Organizers led chants of “bodily autonomy is non-negotiable” as pop music played through a speaker, and students wrote pro-bodily autonomy phrases with sidewalk chalk. 

Jameson Morrow, a sociology Ph.D. student from Pennsylvania, said he felt encouraged to see students participating in the conversation.  

“It’s Nebraska,” he said. “Even though the climate can be okay here in Lincoln, I think having something at the flagship university here brings attention to the rest of the state.”