As another academic year begins on campuses across the country, the excitement of new beginnings can be felt in the air. However, for many young Black women, this school year also comes with a different level of uncertainty following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Coupled with the fact that women in college are three times more likely to experience sexual violence during their time on campus, some students could face increased challenges in the coming semester. Even women in consensual relationships could face many social, academic and health-based complications regarding any decisions they make with their bodies.
At Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Black women are likely to face even more pressure statistically because of the unique challenges that this demographic faces in America. Students returning to school in several states with newly enacted abortion restrictions or states where trigger laws have gone into effect could feel the increased burden of being denied full bodily autonomy.
A subsidiary of Planned Parenthood, Generation Action is a network of young activists across the country who organize events on their campuses and in their communities to advocate for reproductive health rights and sexual health. Jennifer Rice, founder of the Generation Action Chapter on the Campus of North Carolina A&T State University, spoke with NewsOne about the impact of overturning Roe and its lasting effects on the next generation of Black women.
“It puts Black women in a decision-making hot seat,” Rice said. “Of course, all women are in this decision hot seat but attending an HBCU a lot of times we don’t have the economic backing to sometimes take care of certain health situations whether that’s an abortion or not.”
“And for Black women, it’s been statistically proven that abortions or traumatic events such as abortion can affect a student’s ability to perform in the classroom,” Rice continued. “You’re taking away these resources. You’re affecting how women perform. You’re affecting our graduation rates. You’re affecting engineers, doctors and the future of Black professionals.”
Other reproductive rights leaders believe that this ruling from the Supreme Court was a targeted attack on Black women.
Jenise Fountain is the Founder of Margins W4BW and current executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, two organizations that work to achieve reproductive justice. Fountain says that stripping reproductive autonomy could be detrimental to Black advancement.
“I really see it all as being by Design because Black women are like the most educated group in the US…in terms of enrolling for higher education and degrees received. So I don’t think any of this is by accident, and then we’re also the largest group for getting abortions. So it’s stripping us of that agency is doing a lot,” said Fountain in an exclusive with NewsOne.
Fountain also shared the challenges of being able to remain enrolled in school after an unwanted pregnancy.
“Childcare is not affordable; healthcare is not affordable,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s by accident our lawmakers know that. Our lawmakers know that would be critical to our community. Access to reproductive autonomy is crucial to Black liberation.”
The complexities surrounding reproductive rights for Black women are vast. This decision is not only about social and economic flexibility but also about life itself. Black women are more likely than white women to have fatal complications during childbirth and can easily be ignored or mistreated by medical professionals at a higher rate because of racial biases.
“Bringing back the humanity in medicine and healthcare is important, especially for Black women,” Rice stated. “White women can be on the front lines protesting and advocating, but at the end of the day, they are going to be the ones to get those resources first because they can afford them, because they are close to them, and people listen to them.”
Many HBCU leaders are hearing the concerns of the Black women on their campuses. And are asking everyone to take action in assisting them with their reproductive health journey. Some even push their students to become more politically involved to help change.
Tennessee State President Glenda Glover recently addressed Vice President Kamala Harris and some of her educational peers in a round table discussion where she urged the collegiate community to push students to become more active in civic environments.
“Dobbs is so much bigger than the right to have an abortion, It’s about reproductive rights, and it’s about states’ rights when it gave so much power back to the states,” said Glover. “Students must understand that and become more active in voting at various levels and understand the issues that are out there.”
Glover also mentioned that schools must educate students at a higher level to understand the practicalities of health care.
“It’s teaching students that you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you and your body,” said Rice. “It’s going to take not only us advocating for ourselves but our allies, our brothers. It’s about the whole community.”
The issue of reproductive rights will likely be an ongoing discussion as many try to navigate these unfamiliar times. HBCUs could serve as unique catalysts that create meaningful conversations and powerful movements that bring change across the country.
“It’s really about humanity and bringing humanity into legislation,” Rice stated. “And I think HBCUs are the breeding grounds for that because there is so much independent thinking freedom and support regardless of your decision.”