By Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief

NOVEMBER 2022 — Bio-Med Science Academy’s feminist club created and donated a tree to display at the 41st annual Holiday Tree Festival in Akron, OH. The tree represents the feminist movement and has been named the “Equalitree” to reflect its origins.

Pictured above are Bio-Med students Cadence Gutman, Erin Sterling, and Calvin Clark putting ornaments on the Equalitree at the John S. Knight Center. Photo provided by Jenna Bates.

The tree and all its decorations are donated to the festival and then auctioned off. All proceeds benefit Akron Children’s Hospital.

“[The tree] represents us as a club — the feminist club. Really, feminism is about equality and all the genders, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality — all that stuff. It’s a representation for equality in this physical form that you can pay attention to it,” said Cadence Gutman, a sophomore and member of Bio-Med’s feminist club.

The Equalitree can be found at the John S. Knight Center. The Holiday Tree Festival opens on Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 19. Admission is free and open to the public, and at the event, people can purchase different holiday decorations.

“The Holiday Tree Festival was started in 1982 by the Volunteers of Akron Children’s Hospital and continues today [in] our 41st year. It was our way of giving back to the community a fun event that both children and adults could enjoy doing together,” stated Mary Leuca, the 2022 Festival Chairman, in an email.

As of Nov. 9, the Tree Festival has raised around a total of $6.7 million dollars for Akron Children’s Hospital, according to Spectrum News.

Leuca added, “[People] can view our wonderful trees, wreaths, and holiday gifts that have been created, decorated and donated to the festival by various members of our community such as businesses, churches, organizations, individuals and youth groups.”

Leuca explained the process on how organizations apply to donate a tree.

“Every year, people can go to our website from August 1st thru September 25th to get the instructions and to fill out an application. We will accept applications until September 25th or until we reach our limit, whichever comes first,” said Leuca.

Bio-Med’s feminist club decided to take part in this event during the end of the 2021-2022 school year, where they primarily focused on obtaining a tree.

Pictured above is a display of some of the trees at the Akron Tree Festival. This year is the first time the festival has been held in-person for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo obtained from @AkronSummitCVB on Twitter.

“This year, we finalized who had the tree. Originally, it was going to be me, because my mom had this extra one, but someone in feminist club had this all white tree, and we thought that would look really nice, because we had all the pink stuff on it,” Gutman explained. “We got that, and over time, we slowly collected pink decorations, like a garland and pink ornaments. We hand-painted some of them. They had a female sign on them or ‘1973’ or a uterus in a couple cases. We handmade some of the stuff. We filled the bulbs with pink paper grass. We gathered all of the things we could find with our limited time and money.”

Gutman, along with sophomore Erin Sterling, junior Calvin Clark, and feminist club adviser Jenna Bates, went to the John S. Knight Center to set up the tree Nov. 8.

“The process at the John S. Knight center was pretty easy,” said Sterling. “Ms. Bates just pulled her car into a garage where we unloaded the stuff onto a cart that got pushed into the building. From there, we checked in and got our spot number, and then went to start setting up. I’m not sure about the process for reserving a spot, but once we got there we only had to fill out a couple of papers to explain what the tree was about.”

Gutman noted that the setup process took around three hours.

“There weren’t any completely white trees [except ours]. There was one that was an ombre tree, but more of them were normal green trees. There were some for in loving memory of a certain person. There was one that I really like every year from the NICU that has little pictures of all the premature babies around there with the little knit bootie socks and stuff. That was cute,” said Gutman. “There were these really elaborate trees that had a lot going on that you could tell people spent like two days setting up. It was kind of slightly intimidating at first when we got there with our single box, and never-taken-out-of-the-box tree, and our handmade ornaments.”

After setting up, the individuals representing feminist club were approached by a staff member of the event who addressed a complaint regarding the tree.

“While we were decorating the tree, I noticed people standing there looking at it multiple times, but I didn’t really think anything of it,” said Sterling. “Eventually, someone did come up and told us that there were complaints saying some of our ornaments were ‘too political.’ We ended up having to remove [two] ornaments.”

The Equalitree contained ornaments with the year 1973, referencing the Roe v. Wade court case that made abortion legal across the United States, and another ornament with a painting with a uterus. Gutman noted that ornament with the uterus painting was placed towards the bottom of the tree.

Pictured above are images of the two ornaments that were removed from the Equalitree after complaints. Photo by Alyssa Cocchiola, editor-in-chief.

“Nowhere in the rules did it say it couldn’t be political,” Gutman expressed. “Technically, there was a tree that was red, white, and blue, like the American flag, and their tree skirt was soldiers marching, and I could have been like, ‘That offends me, because it’s military propaganda, and I don’t like it.’ What gives them the right to take down our feminist stuff? Honestly, from far away it just looks like a pink tree. The only thing that’s not just a pink tree is the fact it has the female symbol at the top for our little tree topper. I was a little bit fired up.”

The representatives from Bio-Med’s feminist club were told the ornaments were “too political” due to the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade.

“We’re not saying anything about abortion,” Gutman expressed. “There’s not a little picture of a baby in the uterus…. It was just a uterus. People have uteri. It exists in our bodies. There is nothing political about our bodies.”

The 2022 Tree Decorator’s Instructions do not have any mention of not accepting trees with political messages.

The Tree Festival being a family event was also cited as reasoning behind the removal of the ornaments.

Gutman added, “If your child is like, ‘What’s a uterus?’ especially if they’re a little girl, tell them it’s just something inside of their body. There’s no shame in that. It’s not political. You don’t have to relate it back to Roe V. Wade. You don’t even have to talk about it. Just tell them it’s a part of their body.”

With the exception of the two removed ornaments, the Equalitree can still be viewed at the festival as one of the 135 trees on display.

“I think we were all pretty disappointed about having to remove these ornaments, because they were some of the more powerful ornaments on the tree that really grabbed your attention and told you what the tree was about. I also think it wasn’t right to call it political. There weren’t any rules that would make the things on the tree wrong, and there was another tree that you could argue was ‘political’ as well,” said Sterling. “Personally, I think this was a good example of why the feminist movement it important. If we’d have had an ornament with male anatomy, we would have been asked to remove it because it was ‘inappropriate,’ but when it was female anatomy, it became ‘political.’ While it’s disappointing we had to remove the ornaments, I think we still accomplished something with them, because obviously people noticed.”

Information regarding the specific times the event is open can be found on the Downtown Akron Partnership website. More information regarding the application for tree donation can be found at akronchildrens.org/treefestival.

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