“Reproductive Injustice” discussed

Ashley Barletta, News Editor

Reproductive injustice is one of the issues that many women face yet is often overlooked or forgotten. It impacts many women, especially women of color and is a persisting moral issue as well.

The CTE (Center for Teaching Excellence) Book Club is reading and discussing Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth by Dána-Ain Davis.

Dr. Averil Earls, Assistant Professor of History and Director of the Mercyhurst Center for Teaching Excellence, said, “I’ve been trying to steer the CTE to more diversity, equity, and justice-focused programming.

With the ELIES (Evelyn Lincoln Institute for Ethics and Society) we have co-hosted a year-long faculty seminar focused on issues of diversity and inclusion in the classroom. We have held sessions during the semester open to all faculty and staff to address issues of microaggression in the classroom, pronouns for inclusivity, and how best to serve our students with autism.

For the book club, which I started last summer, our 2020-21 book selections have been focused on anti-racism in particular. Our faculty reading group has been small, but awesome! We read Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist, Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race, Ward’s Men We Reaped, and Lewis’s Across That Bridge. For our final read of the year, I pulled three potential titles, and Reproductive Injustice was the book that the most people voted for. The CTE has provided copies of the book to all those interested in participating.”

The conversation about reproductive injustice began with a group of women called SisterSong. The group started in 1997 and has since grown. The movement surrounding reproductive injustice has helped many women and continues to do so.

Earls says, “SisterSong, the first organization dedicated to the Reproductive Justice movement, was founded in the 1990s by 16 women of color. Their mission is to ensure that every person is guaranteed the human right to ‘maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.’ The book that faculty selected for this week’s discussion investigates the barriers to reproductive justice. I think it will form the basis for a fruitful discussion and raise some awareness about the issues that people of color face when it comes to maternal and infant mortality, access to birth control and safe abortions and the racist policies that negatively impact Black parenthood in the United States.”

For more information on SisterSong, visit https://www.sistersong.net/.

The first step to resolving an issue is acknowledging it. A book club is a simple and effective way to educate both yourself and others about these types of issues. Once the impact of these issues is learned, we can begin to form a solution to the problem.

“It is essential that faculty do the work to confront racism on our campus, in our classrooms, in our community. A book club is, of course, just a first step—self-educating, and having those first hard conversations in a safe place, among colleagues. The better we understand the systemic nature of racism in this country, the better equipped we will be to dismantle it” said Earls.

Many teachers at Mercyhurst understand the need to have the conversation about reproductive injustice.

Christina Rieger, a professor in the Department of English, says, “I think that any of our instructors teaching medical topics should address the issues Davis raises. She is frustrated that many medical professionals interviewed refuse to address race. Doing so in our classrooms and public discourse would break this taboo and ideally lead to further research and better outcomes.

Since I research and teach in the Medical Humanities, I have found Reproductive Injustice very compelling. It addresses medical racism, pregnancy, and premature birth. Dána-Ain Davis provides sobering statistics. For instance, Black women in the U.S. are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth or pregnancy than white women, and they have twice the rate of premature births than any other group. This disparity remains even when income or education level are considered. Beyond numbers, I found the interviews with Black mothers of premature babies most compelling. Some revealed that their doctors dismissed their concerns or employed racist stereotypes in responding to them.

Any woman can feel vulnerable during and after giving birth. Having a premature child in an NICU for months would only add to that sense of powerlessness. Then, contending with racist attitudes would make the experience traumatic. Davis has written an important book that has opened my eyes to medical practices and attitudes that need reform.”

Reproductive injustice has been affecting women, especially women of color, for too long. Women should be able to safely have their children without feeling stereotyped or fearing racism. Starting a conversation to help educate others on it is the first step in making a change.