Reproductive justice is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights, according to the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.¹
My experiences with sexuality and reproductive justice began in childhood, through a series of painful and difficult encounters of abuse. Everyone’s experience of abuse is different and manifests differently; it’s not always the central and most absorbing detail of my life, but the legacy of anxiety and hyper-alertness is an artifact I still carry with me years later, like many survivors.
My experiences seemed pretty overwhelming until I learned to use them to help understand others’ pain, and learn about their lives and viewpoints. When I emigrated from my country to the U.S., I learned about other aspects of identity which impact reproductive justice, such as age, race, and immigrant status.
As an immigrant to the US with a visa but without a green card, my fate was entirely subject to the whims of people with absolute and inimical power over my life and person. I did not experience freedom from threat until I left my home for university. For me, as for many of our students, college was the first freedom from direct oppression I had known.
College does bring additional threats to reproductive health through contact with larger numbers of people conditioned by rape culture to target others for sexual violence. Contrary to many expectations, sexual assault on college campuses is not confined to female students. According to a study reported in the OU Daily in December 2015, 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 16 male students were sexually assaulted during their college years.²
The University of Oklahoma is a different creature today than the university life in my day. Our bread and butter is the first time college attendee, and we do more to scaffold and support the first time student than any institution in my memory. I was deeply scrutinized and cloistered by cultural strictures and did not know the language or behaviors of freedom. These insufficiencies in my own understanding left me unable to make full use of the resources available.
Although we live in a space where nonreporting is a social norm, there are inclusive financial, social, and informational resources and supports for all survivors of any kind of sexual violence. Between the Gender and Equality Center, the Counseling Psychology Clinic, OU Advocates, and resources at the Women and Gender Studies department and cross-departmental allies all across campus, there are people who want to help.
The SART program, LGBTQ+ Ally, and other programs of this nature are embedded elements of campus culture now, and although the current political climate supports rape culture as a part of white supremacist patriarchal rhetoric and actors, there have also been pervasive and public refutations of that agenda.
Ultimately, the battleground for identity and acceptance of reproductive health and justice is seated in the body, which makes the conversation around RJ inherently personal and intimate. I work with Take Root because it is a unique conference examining this work as seated in all levels of education, specifically in red states. We provide a home for dialogue inclusive of all identities, and in a cross-disciplinary arena of collaboration and exploration. We make a space to hear each others’ stories.