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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Loretta Ross, founder of the modern-day Reproductive Justice movement, speaks at Amherst College

Ross one of the few who coined the term ‘reproductive justice’
(Meghan Sorensen/ Daily Collegian)

Loretta Ross, a founder of the modern-day “reproductive justice” movement, spoke at Amherst College in a conversation hosted by the college’s Reproductive Justice Alliance organization Monday night. Ross was one of the creators of the term “reproductive justice” which African-American women coined in 1994.

“Reproductive justice is not an identity-based framework, it’s a criteria-based framework. Just because it was created by Black women doesn’t mean it only applies to Black women,” said Ross “It’s a very universal theory because everyone has human rights. It’s just that because of our intersectional identities we all need something different to achieve them.”

Ross said that seeing reproductive justice become popular on the internet “was proof that we were able to birth an idea and breathe life into it and use it to build a movement.”

This conversation is part of Amherst College’s Reproductive Justice Week hosted by the Women’s and Gender Center, the Reproductive Justice Alliance and the Mead Art Museum.

“A key criterion for reproductive justice is realizing that no individual can make reproductive decisions outside of the context in which they’re embedded,” said Ross.

Ross continued to say that even if you are empowered, if you are embedded in a system that does not respect your right to body autonomy, that empowerment will not allow you to gain reproductive justice.

Throughout the conversation, Ross discussed population control’s integral role in desires of reproductive legislature, religion’s effect on sexual and reproductive conversations or lack thereof and the intersection of race and gender and how it pertains to reproductive freedoms.

Ross told attendees that reproductive justice “is a feminist theory that we created because we wanted to go beyond the fight for abortion rights which is very important and it’s a very important human right, but at the same time as Black women, we are always subjected to strategies of population control.”

Amherst College’s Reproductive Justice Alliance works to take radical action on behalf reproductive rights and the social justice issues that intersect with it locally and nationally. The organization’s goals include enabling the reproductive freedom of students on campus and providing resources for marginalized people in the community.

“I think it’s really essential to spread information about what reproductive justice is and, as Professor Ross was saying, expanding the conversation beyond just pro-choice and abortion rights to encompassing more what it means to be someone who can reproduce in this world. It’s especially important in this political context now,” said Lisa Zheutlin, a junior sexuality, women and gender studies major at Amherst college and the president of the RJA.

“I think reproductive justice gives us the freedom to explore these conversations we haven’t had and that’s one of the things that delights me about the framework,” said Ross.

Some of the RJAs other events include trauma-informed yoga, art workshops and events that fundraise for the Prison Birth Project, Safe Passage and other organizations that fight for reproductive justice. The Women’s and Gender Center works to provide a safe space to discuss intersectional feminism, gender and sexuality on campus while providing for the needs of the marginalized Amherst College community. The center has a number of support spaces and hosts educational and social programs. It works alongside the Queer Resource Center, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Center for International Student and Engagement and the Center for Diversity and Student Leadership to benefit students on campus.

“I wanted to make campus more comfortable and actually have students see themselves represented on our campus and celebrated,” said Nayah Mullings, director of the Women’s and Gender Center. Mullings came back to Amherst College after graduating due to her passion for “supporting students that are historically and presently marginalized on campus through their journey through this place and beyond.”

During the conversation, students were encouraged to ask questions centered around reproductive rights, sexual freedom and the cycle of oppression. Ross encouraged students to rebel against the long-standing system of sexism and reproductive silence strategically.

“Don’t sabotage your own goals trying to start a revolution cause the oppression will still be here when you graduate. I mean it’s not like we’re going to run out of oppression before you graduate. It don’t work like that,” Ross told attendees.

At the age of 15, Ross began her activism career after giving birth to a child born of incest and being forced to raise that child. Ross notes her inability to find solace in religion because of the way she was treated by her church. She was told to confess for being raped while her cousin, the perpetrator was never brought into the conversation.

At the age of 23, she survived sterilization abuse by a faulty IUD (Dalkon Shield). Ross was one of the first women of color to win a case against the manufacturer of Dalkon Shield.

When asked where she saw reproductive justice going in the future, Ross said that reproductive justice is a lens that can be moved to center different groups. While she chose to use the lens to benefit Black women, Ross encourages all women to work to find what reproductive justice means and does for them in order to work away from the white supremacy framework.

“I watched the Indigenous women shift the lens and redefine reproductive justice incorporating sovereignty in a way that wouldn’t have occurred to or was not needed by Black women. I watched Latinas shift it and incorporate a struggle against immigration rights that again would not have occurred to Black women. I watched white women re-center it and talk about critical white feminism as a way of resisting white supremacy among white women,” said Ross.

Ross has expansive experience and history in reproductive rights. She has taught as a visiting professor of practice in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University and as a visiting professor at Hampshire College in women’s studies. Ross is also a co-founder and the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. This collective works to organize women of color and allied organizations that organize women of color in the reproductive justice movement.

Ross also founded and was the executive director of the National Center for Human Rights Education in Atlanta, Georgia, launched the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women and opened the first rape crisis center (D.C. Rape Crisis Center) as the third executive director in 1979. In 2004, Ross was the National Co-Director of the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C. From there, Ross has gone on to author and co-author many books.

Now at the age of 66, Ross is a professor in women’s studies and teaches “White Supremacy in the Age of Trump” at Smith College and speaks out about reproductive rights through NBC, The New York Times and “Full-Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

“I ain’t ready to pass the torch, I’m still using it,” said Ross.

Meghan Sorensen  can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @SorensenMeghan.

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    Jim Cavenaugh isOct 23, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for speaking and writing about Reproductive Justice
    You help me stay focused
    Keep up the good work