Teaching Advocacy

Marie Garlock, WomenNC and Tara Romano, NCWU

Marie Garlock, WomenNC and Tara Romano, NCWU

Recently, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) held their national conference on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Believing that “activism is a way of life“, organizers of the conference contacted local advocacy groups to present at some of the sessions, including NCWU, and members Women NC and Ipas. With one of the main conference organizers coming from a feminist perspective on advocacy, he was looking for groups that would impress upon the students that they could serve as both advocates as well as clinicians for their patients. Coming across our web post this past summer about NCWU and our members’ commitment to building a reproductive justice movement in North Carolina, we were asked to present a session titled “Women are Worth It: Building Healthy and Safe Communities for Women”, with an emphasis on how social justice issues – such as fair economic policies, equitable access to quality resources, and protection of the environment and of civil rights – can affect women’s and families’ health. After some discussion, we decided to craft a short (50 minutes) session that would provide the students with an introduction to reproductive justice (RJ). In the short session we had available, we weren’t going to be able to delve deeply into such a rich and complex topic; our hope was that we would spark interest in the students to inspire them to learn more.

Group Icebreaker

Group Icebreaker

Member NARAL Pro-Choice NC has been committing itself to RJ for a while now, and they gave us a lot of guidance as we sketched out our session, leading us to the resources of Forward Together, Access/Women’s Health Rights Coalition, and the Western States Center. Beginning with an icebreaker, we asked the students to gather in a circle and bring into the open some of the stereotypes around women’s sexuality and reproduction. Emphasizing that RJ was born out of the activism of women of color, we took the students through a timeline of reproductive oppression in the US, including slavery, Native American genocide, forced sterilizations, the Hyde Amendment and other restrictions on abortion access, and the oppression of members of the LGBT-community. Seeing how racism, classism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia combined to oppress women’s (and men’s) sexual and bodily autonomy via historical events provided a good foundation for discussion of what reproductive oppression looks like.

Breaking into small groups, we then asked the students to take an RJ lens to issues not typically thought of as “reproductive rights”, while also asking them to examine how race, class and sexuality may impact how one experiences typical reproductive rights. Some of the students had not thought much about activism before, and RJ was a challenging concept for them. But they did all start to make those connections needed to build an RJ movement. Questions such as “why does the Family Medical Leave Act only take effect after  you’ve been on the job for at least a year” (one of the students was pregnant, and realized she wouldn’t be eligible for FMLA at her new job once she gave birth); why is dental and vision medical insurance considered separate from health insurance; and did we know that if a med student is pregnant when she applies for her residency, her pregnancy ranks her lower in the placement program? The short session went by quickly, and there was too much discussion for us to summarize in the larger group. We hope we planted some more seeds to build on a robust and growing RJ movement.

As the medical community can be an asset to the social justice movement, this was a great opportunity to share our movement with young medical students, with the hope that this will be a small part of what shapes them into clinician-advocates. We thank the AMSA for providing us with this opportunity, and look forward to future collaborations with them. And thanks to member the Carolina Abortion Fund for providing us another facilitator (and photographer – Julie Grubbs) for our session.  UNC marie

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