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Undergraduates Join Together to Create the Blood Donor Equality Movement

BDE foundersStony Brook University students are banding together to make a difference through the Blood Donor Equality (BDE) movement, launched last spring by four undergraduates.

The BDE movement is working to change the current policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Led by Tyler Morrison (senior, psychology), Michael Duffy (senior, psychology), Jamie Leonard (junior, biology) and Tobin George (junior, political science), the group is seeking to engage communities in an awareness campaign with a call to action to revise the 1985 Federal Drug Administration (FDA) blood donor policy that bans men who have sex with other men from donating blood.

BDE’s goal is to change the existing orientation-based policy to one that is behavior-based. Its plan is to generate a letter-signing campaign or an online petition and to bring collected signatures to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell to pressure the government to revise its existing policy.

The movement on campus began with Morrison. “This is an issue that I have cared about deeply for a long time. My mother is a phlebotomist with Long Island Blood Services. This particular policy from the FDA prevents many healthy individuals from donating their blood, myself included. It was very clear to me that this was wrong and needed to be dealt with passionately and with clear goals in mind,” he said. “I knew immediately that Michael, Jamie and Tobin would be the best people to seek for support. As it turned out, this is a topic that the three of them were already somewhat familiar with. Of course, we all had a lot of learning to do about the topic, but we gained a lot of traction very quickly.”

Once they formed the movement, the group sprang into action. The students knew they first had to educate the community on the issue, so they began with a public service announcement (PSA), which was shown at New Student Convocation.


Blood Donor Equality PSA

“The video was an idea that we felt would be the best first step to take, since we wanted to shoot for mass educational outreach,” Morrison said.

The PSA was a huge success and the group is now aiming to turn it into a national message that could be used by other schools and organizations to promote equality.

Next, the group held the Blood Donor Policy Panel in the Charles B. Wang Center this past November, which highlighted different perspectives on the issue. Panelists included David Kilmnick, Stony Brook alumnus and chief executive officer of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth; Benjamin J. Greco, medical director of the New York Blood Center; and Louis M. Katz, executive vice president and chief medical officer of America’s Blood Centers. Charles L. Robbins, vice provost for Undergraduate Education and dean of the Undergraduate Colleges, moderated the panel.

“The Blood Donor Policy Panel was a huge success,” Morrison said. “In a theater with 240 seats it was standing room only. When I speak to people about Blood Donor Equality, I preface it by saying that this is a combination of issues, involving scientifically and socially justified public policy. On the panel, we had fantastic representation from the scientific and medical communities from Dr. Katz and Dr. Greco, while Dr. Kilmnick represented more of a social justice aspect of the topic. The most valuable aspect of the panel was the wide range of perspective that was brought into focus.” 

While the education process continues, the four leaders hope to see more students take an active role in the movement.  “This is a student-founded and student-driven movement,” Morrison said. “We do have a lot of support, but in the end this is all about students. We have a letter template that we can send out to anyone interested in helping us collect signatures. We are happy to support students getting involved, learning about the topic, receiving information/documents from us, doing their own presentations, etc. Ultimately, we want students to take this initiative on as their own, take our letter and collect signatures, and talk to everyone they know about it. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool for the spread of information.”

During the spring semester, BDE continued focusing on education with several events to spread the word, including live musical acts and lecture/panel-style events. The group also hopes to build momentum by utilizing more media and social media sources alike in their drive toward national outreach. This outreach will lay the groundwork for the fall semester when BDE plans to launch its online White House petition with the goal of collecting 100,000 signatures.  

But Morrison said he doesn’t want the campaign to stop there. “I want to see as many SUNY schools get involved in this cause as possible. I also want to see our movement reach the national scale next semester. We need to rally our nation together to utilize a collective voice for change. That is what needs to happen. That is what works — 100,000 signed letters to the HHS Secretary is a great goal, but personally I would like to crush it by including our entire nation in this open effort.”

To learn more about BDE, please visit its Facebook page. You can also reach BDE via email at donorequality@gmail.com.

By Shelley Catalano; photos by John Griffin

 

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