Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hampshire hosts reproductive rights conference

By Claire Anderson

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Hampshire College held its annual reproductive rights conference this weekend, connecting speakers, activists and students from across the United States. Titled “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom,” the conference brought together more than 1,200 participants to discuss a range of issues, including health care, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, the 2012 election cycle and student groups that give out condoms when a college does not have a designed program to do so.

Claire Anderson/Collegian

Started in 1981 after the landmark Roe vs. Wade court case established abortion rights as a constitutional guarantee, Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) is an educational not-for-profit group located on the Hampshire campus dedicated to working both for reproductive rights and other civil liberties issues. CLPP worked with the Population and Development Program (PopDev) to host the conference for the 26th time.

The conference aimed to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to discuss issues in a conflict-free environment, said Kat Good-Schiff, a communications associate for CLPP.

The panels covered a very broad range of topics, with a unifying theme that no problem has an easy solution. Discussion topics were chosen on “main and constant issues such as abortion and environmental concerns, but also focused on issues that are big right now, like the 2012 election,” said Hampshire student Lauren Casey, one of the conference coordinators.

The topics of discussion, from sex education policy in public schools to immigration policy to policy issues within the prison system, all fell under the umbrella of reproductive rights.

The conference connected organizations and students with various topics, with the goal of breeding understanding and future opportunities to work together on the often complex and multifaceted issues that characterize the debate over reproductive rights

The conference provided child care, housing and meals to participants in need, said Casey.

“The conference is very accepting, an open space,” said international student and conference coordinator Yasmine El Baggari. “We do not have a place to talk about controversial issues like abortion at home.”

One of the goals of the conference was to consider both the academic and personal experiences of those involved. To facilitate this, all presenters and participants shared stories about their activism in an attempt to encourage other participants to become involved not only in national campaigns but in local and campus-centered grassroots groups.

Multiple presenters emphasized the goal of promoting effective activism and leadership for the reproductive rights movement.

“Grassroots change issues, they get things done,” said presenter Lindsey O-Pries.

“The goal of the conference is to create empowered, trusting and inspiring new leaders with diverse and new voices to fight for reproductive rights,” said Casey.

Some participants relished the chance to engage with issues in person, rather than through the internet and social networking.

“There is a huge difference between Facebook activism and this conference activism,” said Hampshire student Oliver Rosenheim, who was there with friends Hannah Utter and Sassi Jensen. The three students agreed they often take advantage of how liberal and accepting the Amherst area is, stating their belief that in other areas, people who seem different may not feel comfortable or accepted. Many attendees left feeling energized and committed to further learning and activism. Among these was Rep. Ellen Story, who was a panelist discussing reproductive rights and the upcoming 2012 election.

“I will continue the response on this outrageous assault on women,” said Story, saying to the crowd that, “women will prevail.”

Claire Anderson can be reached at [email protected]

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