The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 8, 2013

Miss Mankato: Abstinence platform rejected

By Amanda Dyslin

MANKATO — For years the winner of the Miss Mankato competition has worked with Project G.E.M. and also gone into area schools to talk about her platform with youth.

But Shelly Bartlett, director of Miss Mankato, said the winner crowned in November, Minnesota State University student Gabrielle Chavers, is being rejected by some. Chavers’ platform is “Abstinence: You’re Worth the Wait.”

“Typically, I always had good communication with Project G.E.M.,” Bartlett said.

Chavers said she harbors no ill will. She just wants to find more opportunities to spread her message.

“There has been a little bit of a roadblock to get this message out there,” she said.

Alice De Yonge, program director of Project G.E.M., said she didn’t think abstinence was an appropriate topic for the audience. The educational nonprofit organization provides programming for special-needs and at-risk youth.

“We’re talking about girls who’ve already got babies,” De Yonge said. “I bring in Planned Parenthood. I had a child-support case officer.”

De Yonge said an example of a past appropriate platform for Project G.E.M. by a Miss Mankato presenter was body image and anorexia.

“Realistically, I have to be very choosey about what speakers to bring in,” De Yonge said. “These platform presentations are very specific, and they’re not meant for every target audience that these girls are trying to reach out to. Abstinence is not one that is really appropriate for the students I book for.”

Chavers disagrees and thinks the topic, rooted in a message of self-respect and self-esteem, was dismissed too quickly.

“It’s something that is special to me,” Chavers said. “They don’t have to (succumb) to societal pressure to have sex. ... It’s not too late for them. So what if you’ve already had a kid? So what if you’re not a virgin? You don’t have to continue that path.”

Bartlett said East High School Principal Jeff Dahline met with Chavers Thursday and decided she couldn’t do a schoolwide lyceum, but “maybe one small classroom.”

Dahline said he told Chavers that while he didn’t think the abstinence discussion was appropriate for 1,000 students in grades 9-12 all at one time, he did want to connect her with a 10th-grade health teacher to give the talk in that classroom setting to 30-35 students at a time and 200-300 students during the course of the day.

“We get a lot of requests like this and proposals, and we do our best to weigh those proposals and find the right platform to deliver those,” Dahline said. “They’re all great organizations; they’re all very worthy. But we also have to take into consideration that our students’ time is very valuable.”

Chavers said she understood much better Friday after discussing her platform with West Principal Brian Gersich that there are policies in place for such topics, including the message being delivered from an educational standpoint that must coincide with school curriculum. Gersich, too, suggested the abstinence talk is best suited for health classes at West.

Chavers said after her discussion with Gersich, she likely confused what she considered “resistance” by Dahline with making sure the talk followed protocol.