Read Leeore’s account of starting a chapter here. In this week’s blog, she talks about the activities her new chapter engaged in.
My partner and I decided that as we started the chapter, we also needed to work on curriculum reform. If we could help it, the first time people heard the word abortion at this institution should not be at an optional extracurricular activity. We met with a block director who works with curriculum building to understand what the process to change or add curriculum looks like.
As we moved forward, I made myself two promises (these were important for me and guided the way I chose to navigate situations, but absolutely do not need to be universal and likely would not apply everywhere).
- I would not make enemies intentionally. This meant being discreet and minimizing resistance where we could.
- I wanted to fully understand all relevant policies. Knowing where the legal and institutional lines are would help me avoid resistance where possible and ensure that I was deliberate about my actions and pushing the right boundaries.
These goals meant understanding the laws, as well as school policy. I read legislative policies in place regarding abortion in the state and set up meetings with administrators to understand our institution’s policies regarding abortion care and education. We clearly informed them of our goals to enact curriculum reform and start the MSFC student group. We were fortunate that our administration assured us that we would personally be protected from any legislative backlash, but the process required persistence.In parallel, we were reaching out to doctors and professors we thought may be supportive to see if they would be interested in being involved. Many emails were never returned. We received some general support, usually followed by saying they did not have personal experience or knowledge to actively help. We found an advisor who, despite never having been trained to perform abortions, is supportive and passionate.
We started reaching out directly to block directors to discuss options to include curriculum. Though several seemed supportive of the idea, taking actual steps forward proved to be a challenge. We were able to add one lecture to our reproductive unit that touched on the sensitivity of pregnancy, how to counsel patients, and briefly included abortion. While there is so much more work to be done, this was an incredibly stride forward.
While we were moving forward with the administrative pieces of starting a student group (filing to be an official student group, writing our constitution, etc.), we talked about events we wanted to have and our visions for the group. When the pandemic started, we held a virtual event with the MSFC medical director on the basics of abortion care. It was a small event, but we wanted to make sure that we closed the school year out with an event.
This spring, we built up to an incredibly successful event. Two of our board members organized a talk in conjunction with some law school groups. We found many of our students were curious about legal questions, and many law students had questions about the fundamentals and safety of abortions. Interestingly, the law school had a much easier time finding professors who were eager and excited to speak. The event (still virtual) had 1-2 speakers from each school and engaged about 130 people! We are hoping to continue a partnership with the law students and work on legislative advocacy with them in the future.
One of the biggest challenges we have faced (and continue to face) is finding speakers and folks to work with our group. We have few faculty members who have performed abortions in the past (our institution does not perform them). The institutional guidelines also are unclear and seem to vary between departments, which further complicates finding folks who want or feel comfortable working with us. We have had to rely mainly on folks from other institutions who are kindly willing to speak with us.