Strengthening Convictions for Comprehensive Sex Education

Hello, Newcomb College Institute! My name is Julia Guy, and I am a Tulane junior studying Political Economy and Environmental Studies. This is my fourth session working as a research assistant for Dr. Clare Daniel, but it is my third as part of the Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health internship program. My current project is a continuation of last summer’s work, in which I am compiling a master list of school administration contacts across Louisiana to prepare an IRB proposal for a much larger project assessing the capacity for comprehensive sex education in the Bayou State.

As most of us know, comprehensive sex education is important for public health and reproductive justice for its most practical and autonomous reasons: young adults must know facts about reproductive organs, sexual intercourse and its implications, sexually transmitted infections, and contraceptive methods in order to more completely assess their reproductive options and make choices best for them and their situation. However, the most pressing current event of the past few weeks illustrated a need for CSE beyond one-sided teen pregnancy statistics or gender role-based STI prevention campaigns.

If the topics of sex and our bodies are breached at all in the American classroom, they are often laced with negative, shameful messages about the “proper” way to express sexuality and sexual behavior. Abstinence-only education often draws upon conservative, religious beliefs about morality to try to explicitly link sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage as a degradation of self-worth. Combination programs take a step forward by including information about contraceptive methods, but they often list grim statistics about effectiveness and continue to state that oft-repeated illogical line: “Abstinence is the only 100% effective method to prevent pregnancy and STIs.”

Dr. Ford’s testimony two weeks ago was utterly heartbreaking. Period. However, the national reaction, from the explicit dismissal from my own Texas senators to the toxic comment threads on local news sites, not only angered me, it once again proved that something is gravely missing from what our students are learning about not just their bodies and sexuality, but how to appropriately and respectful treat one another’s. True comprehensive sex education not only teaches the anatomy and process of sex but does so in a manner that presents all reproductive choices and situations as simply that: a choice. A personal choice, like all other individual or bodily choices, to be respected like any other. Of course, we should discuss consent and partner respect in the classroom; many existing programs of different types already do. However, removing stigmas and shameful messaging from how we teach about sex, and incorporating the positive, normal, and exciting parts for both men and women may help begin to bridge the gap so painfully displayed on our most solemn national stage this month.

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Continuing Work at the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center

My name is Kennedy Williams and I am a junior at Tulane University, studying psychology and public health. I had such an amazing summer interning at the New Orleans Children’s Advocacy Center, that I knew I needed to find a way to stay on for the fall. Unfortunately, working for free during the school year wasn’t financially feasible for me. Thankfully, Newcomb offers a Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights internship that could fund my internship into the fall semester. I’m so grateful to be able to finish the work I started this summer. I am able to continue to transcribe forensic interviews to be used in sexual assault trials, continue developing the first statewide assessment on human trafficking, and continue to create and implement a No Hit Zone policy in schools in the community. I also have the opportunity this semester to create an educational campaign for high school seniors called College, Sex, and the Law.

 

Reflection of First Few Weeks at Lift Louisiana: An Exposure to Incarcerated Women’s Health Services and Reflection of the Kavanaugh Confirmation

Hi, everyone! My name is Janna (pronounced John-Uh) Mangasep, and I’m a sophomore majoring in Political Economy with a double minor in Mathematics and SLAMM (School of Liberal Arts Management Minor). I am beyond excited to be interning for Lift Louisiana and being a part of Newcomb College Institute’s Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health internship program! As a former intern under the Mayor’s Office of New York City and a former research assistant of tenured professor Celeste Lay in the political science field, I’ve been involved in work somewhat related to the government for the majority of 2018. However, I hadn’t gotten the chance to fully dive into the specific policy areas that I’ve consistently found myself interested in: women’s rights and reproductive justice. While the former entails several causes for concern I could translate into essays and free time spent researching the topic, the latter has been a subject I’ve longed to serve. Therefore, I can definitely say that accepting the communications intern position at Lift has been the easiest choice I’ve ever had to make!

So far, my duties at Lift Louisiana have spanned over several topic areas. To begin with, my supervisor, Michelle Erenberg, gave me the assignment of creating an introduction to a report on incarcerated women in Louisiana’s reproductive and overall health care services (or the lack thereof). An issue I had been unfortunately ignorant on until now, I’ve had the educational experience of researching facts across several studies that exemplify our state’s failure in supplying these women, pregnant or not, with the appropriate services that they deserve as human beings, services that I believe are a given right no matter the institutionalization of the person. This had led to disappointing facts that only recently came to light in my perspective of women’s rights, as I’ve found many cases in which women were horrendously neglected through the forced and painful shackling of their legs (and sometimes even across the stomach) before, during, and after labor.

Other than this ongoing assignment, I’ve also been tasked with writing another blog post, specifically for Lift’s website, in where I had the autonomy in choosing whatever topic I felt was relevant to Lift’s mission. I chose the Kavanaugh hearing and consequential confirmation, an ordeal that has taken a toll on both myself and basically all other women I know. While this has been one of the more personally difficult assignments, it’s allowed me to take a fully informed stance on the case that I may have otherwise not completely considered, as it’s certainly easier to only think of incidents like these in the passing conversations with other students rather than in an entire blog post.

Overall, my experience in Lift has been exciting, albeit difficult in terms of time management and prioritizing in the context of my other engagements. I’m excited to see what comes next!

(Side note: This recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh into the highest court of the land has made plenty of women, including myself, relive traumatic experiences in our sympathy/empathy for Ford’s own sexual assault. For other women and survivors of sexual assault, I highly recommend watching the now-viral SNL cold open of Kavanaugh’s hearing. It’s given me and even my supervisor a good laugh in the midst of this ordeal!)

Image result for kavanaugh snl cold open

Janna

What Have We Learned?

Hello readers! If we haven’t met yet, I’m Amy Vertacnik, and this fall is my second “term” with the Reproductive Rights and Health internship program. I’ll be continuing my research with Dr. Alyssa Lederer on a study exploring the factors associated with STI knowledge in college students. Last summer, I completed a literature review about what our public health community already knows about this topic. This semester, I’ll be supporting Dr. Lederer on her statistical analysis and working to write a manuscript of our findings to submit for publishing.

Little research has been conducted to determine demographic factors related to American college students’ STI knowledge, and none has provided an overview of the factors. This project hopes to help fill that gap. Based on the literature, the following variables will be examined in our manuscript, assuming there is a large enough sample size to do so: gender, year in school (age), race/ethnicity, international student status, and top informal source of information.

Along with writing a manuscript, we are also creating and submitting a poster on this research to the American College Health Association (ACHA) conference with hopes of presenting our poster in the spring. Additionally, this semester, I’ll be helping Dr. Lederer format another research poster on condom use for her presentation at the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference, reformatting references on yet another project, and participating in our women’s research group.

This fall will be a busy “term” but a very exciting one!

 

Reflections at the end of Infant Mortality Awareness Month

When I first got into this work three years ago, I didn’t quite realize exactly what I was getting into. All I knew was that I felt like a minority–not because I was Black, but because I was Black and I was also alive, healthy, attending university, not incarcerated, not burdened by crippling poverty…by all accounts I was doing just fine. I felt like an anomaly because I was the daughter of Black working class teenage parents living in the Deep South and I had made it to 18 without experiencing the personal tragedy, back-breaking tribulations, and life-wrecking traumas that many of those who shared similar backgrounds as myself  were forced to endure. And this fact, along with the realization that the only things separating myself from those peers were my personal privileges broke my heart. But it also ignited a fire in me, because I needed to know why. Why was my path not the norm? Why were Black children more likely to the experience difficult and dangerous childhoods that led to poor adulthood outcomes, or no adulthood at all as their lives were ended too soon? Why did generational cycles persist? And what could I do about it?

My early interests focused primarily on Black children like those living in the city of New Orleans where issues of poverty, violence, and educational achievement are rife. Initially a neuroscience major, I dived into the science of how adverse experiences shape children’s brains, impacting the ways in which they interact with the world, their social skills and coping mechanisms, their cognitive abilities, and even their physiology and later health outcomes. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the answers to my questions wouldn’t be found in individual brains of children. I was looking at biological systems when I needed to be looking at societal ones. Indeed, the problems I wanted to understand didn’t even begin in childhood, but much earlier, even preceding birth. We know that from the start, Black children are behind their White peers in life, more likely to be born at lower weights, and/or born too soon. Increasingly, the evidence shows us that this has to do with the racial discrimination their mothers face over the course of their lives. For more information on this phenomenon, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5206968/. The dark irony is that these children are born too small, too soon, only to die too soon at higher rates as well, many before they even reach their first year of life (https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/InfantMortality.htm.)

Those that survive beyond that first year are still less likely than their White peers to make it to age 20. In 2016, the child and teen death rate for Blacks was 38 per 100,000 of the population compared to 25 per 100,000 of the population for Whites (https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/7752-child-and-teen-death-rate-by-race-and-ethnicity#detailed/1/any/false/870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35,18/10,11,9,12,1,13/14941,17850). I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about the causes of mortality for these children and teens when their deaths are so often the subject of news headlines these days.

Note that the primary source for many of the stats I give is the Centers for Disease Control and Infection. Incidentally, I changed my major to public health right around the time my approach to these things began to shift–right around the time I began this internship. Because regardless of what the rhetoric has historically been, issues of reproductive justice and sexual oppression in general are not issues of individual responsibility–they’re public health issues that affect all of us. And the “diseases” in question are racism and sexism and all the other “isms” that intersection with them in the everyday occurrences of people’s lives. They are prolific and they are lethal, and the effects when they intersect and combine are synergistic. Nothing in society is immune to these epidemics–not even our most sanctified, supposedly ethically-sound, institutions (see: hearing of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh yesterday).

Per Sister Song, a key tenet of Reproductive Justice is “the human right to parent the children one already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government” (https://www.trustblackwomen.org/our-work/what-is-reproductive-justice/9-what-is-reproductive-justice). When the murderers of our children go free and unpunished, when our communities lack grocery stores, quality schools, and healthcare facilities, when our government officials are allowed to serve in spite of personal histories colored by misogyny, sexual violence, and racial bias, I think it is safe to say that based on this definition, the world we are living in now is fundamentally unjust.

As I begin mapping out the curriculum for the workshops I will teach for Young Women With A Vision, this is what is on my mind. So I will talk about biology, because it matters–I will talk about the reproductive system, and sexual health, and birth, and the effects of chronic stress and anxiety on the brain and the body and the womb. But I will also talk about society–about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, about legality versus justice, and all the Black people who are no longer with us, whose names blur together because they are too many. I will especially talk about the girls and the women and nonbinary folks who must often fend for themselves as the plight of the Black male is given priority. These are literally matters of life and death. I need the girls in YWWAV–or really everyone–to understand that those stats I mentioned earlier are the norm, but they don’t have to be. They shouldn’t be. I need them to understand that their bodies and minds are valuable and are their own even if society is constantly telling them otherwise. Their children, current and future, matter, and deserve to live, and prosper, and thrive. The first year of life should not be the last year, Black childhood and adolescence should not be synonymous with fear, and Black parenthood should not mean mourning. I should not have felt the need to sigh in relief when I reached 20.

I’m privileged enough to intern with a woman that already understands this–she started YWWAV, and she did this Ted Talk:

You should watch it.

1_DbVNJ7wXq375Q7RsMxlf6Q Mwende Katwiwa, YWWAV Program Director at TEDWomen last year

 

 

Diving into the World of Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast

Hello friends! My name is Isabelle Lian and I am a sophomore majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Management. I am so excited to be interning with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) and working with NCI this fall semester. These first few weeks have been so interesting and eye-opening! Reproductive rights and reproductive health have been an interest of mine for quite a while, but I have never had the opportunity to truly contribute to the cause.

My responsibilities at Planned Parenthood at this point are centered in the public affairs department. This department is one of the three that are housed at PPGC’s New Orleans branch (the other two being education and communications). As of now, I have worked on several tasks for multiple projects. Over these first three weeks, I have been compiling an Excel spreadsheet of any organizations relevant to PPGC across Louisiana as well as identifying any possible events that PPGC could attend in the future. While practical in a sense that this research is opening up further channels of communication and collaboration among various social justice organizations in Louisiana, this project has helped me become more familiar with non-profit scene in the area.

good-neighbor-canvass-edited-date

Beginning the second and third week, I have been helping the department fine-tune several projects. PPGC will be holding its annual Fall Celebration this coming October 3rd. A huge part of that celebration is gathering present donors to thank them for their contributions and showcasing the accomplishments that PPGC has made over the year. My role in this was to call those donors and respectfully remind them to purchase tickets for the event. Another project was to redesign a volunteer flyer for upcoming canvassing events (pictured on the left). Sign up if you’re free and interested!

This being my first time working internally with a non-profit, there have been many elements that have to be considered. So much work goes down behind the scenes—much of what you see manifested in PPGC education programs and initiates are the culmination of so many minute, yet crucial, details put together. To make the loudest sound, it begins with the smallest specifics.

Ultimately, coming into a new work environment has always been somewhat difficult for me. I like to say that my confidence and comfort grows with experience, so the beginning of this internship was quite daunting to me. Especially as someone from the STEM realm, I felt that I lacked that tie to social justice that is so outwardly apparent for so many others. However, coming to Planned Parenthood has definitely calmed those initial fears. Being surrounded by coworkers who are so dedicated to reproductive health is honestly so inspiring. As a woman of color, it is so great to hear that more people share my same hope for a better future starting with women’s empowerment and fighting for our right to choose what WE think is best for our own bodies.

With that, I am so excited for what is in store! From encouraging personal growth to making a difference in the New Orleans community that I now call home, Planned Parenthood is the place to be!

-Isabelle

Intersection of Civic Duty and Reproductive Justice: My First Weeks as a NOAF Intern

Last year I happened to be walking down McAlister and saw a modest table labeled “New Orleans Abortion Fund.” I’d always had a passion for reproductive justice, but with the recent politics I was feeling, well, defeated. I ended up talking with Amy Irvin for quite some time about NOAF and the work they do. I began to feel inspired again, almost revived, and I wanted to make a difference as soon as I could. I took all of the flyers and reminded myself day after day to get involved. I was already a clinic escort at that point but I knew that NOAF was a special organization.

Fast forward to this summer. As the dog days of summer rolled through I lazily scrolled through my social media and noticed Dr. Daniel had posted something about a Reproductive Rights and Health Internship. Albeit I was worried about my qualifications, I’m an engineering major, and my schedule, I knew that I should at least try (What’s the worst that could happen?). A few weeks later, Amy called me for a phone interview and here I am, NOAF’s Community Canvassing Intern.

To say I was apprehensive was an understatement. I had never canvassed before nor worked with a nonprofit. But after my first few weeks I can say with confidence that I love it. My main project is putting together canvassing events during the week of early voting in October and the day before the election in November. It’s no surprise that the primary election (Nov. 6th) is crucial this year, and our goal for canvassing is to get people to the polls based on the terrible statistics for Louisiana women. In fact, our catchphrase is “Louisiana: The Hardest Place to be a Woman” because, well, it is. In terms of abortion access, something I’ve learned much about since starting, there are only 3 abortion clinics in the entire state, which means 97% of LA women living in parishes without a clinic.

There are many more restrictive, inadequate laws in place to keep Louisiana difficult for women, which is why voting is so important. Change only occurs when we want it to; democracy is in the hands of the people. In these first weeks I’ve met a ton of amazing, dedicated people and I can’t wait to meet many more. I’m excited for NOAF Get Out The Vote (GOTV) canvassing and the change that we can bring.

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Yours truly (in the vulva and on the right) at NOAF’s 5th Annual Sex Ed Bingo at Bayou Beer Garden. Safe to say we got some interesting looks from others at the restaurant. 

**Any interested in canvassing please email me at intern@neworleansabortionfund.org

And remember, #GeauxVote!

Fall @ Tulane School of Public Health

New Orleans weather may finally be cooling off, but my internship is just heating up! I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my work with Dr. Lederer at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine this semester, and for Newcomb College Institute’s Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health Internship for continuing to fund this work. In the hustle and bustle of the academic year, it is so rewarding to have such meaningful work to turn to every week that reminds me of why I chose to study public health in the first place.

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This is the view from the Tidewater building on Tulane’s Downtown Campus, where I spend most of my internship. From the 22nd floor, one can see most of the city (including the St. Louis Cathedral if you look really hard!) When I look out this window, I am reminded that the work we do is in service of this incredible city and the incredible people that call it home.

As I mentioned in my summer blog posts, my area of focus is a qualitative analysis of the Check It program, which is a Tulane-based community intervention program that provides free STI testing and treatment to African-American males aged 15-24 (and their partners!) in the greater New Orleans area. Much of my work thus far has consisted of transcribing interviews with men that tested positive for an STI through Check It and have completed the program entirely. I am excited to announce that we will soon begin the qualitative analysis portion of my project, working to find themes amongst the interviewees’ responses that will allow us to better understand and address the high rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia in the Gulf South.

Perhaps my favorite part of this work is the contribution I can make as a transcriber to program improvement overall. In recent meetings, I was able to use what broad themes I was hearing in the interviews to recommend changes to the interviewing style, and the team will soon begin to interview those that underwent the Check It program but did not test positive for an STI in order to obtain a bit more unbiased feedback surrounding the program logistics. I am looking forward to seeing where the qualitative research around Check It moves in the near future, as Dr. Lederer and I have discussed writing a manuscript and presenting at a public health research conference. I will also be putting together a poster about my work for the Conceiving Equity event at NCI in January, all of which will be invaluable professional experiences.

In addition to my work at the downtown campus, Dr. Clare Daniel and Amy Irvin have some wonderful things in store for us interns through the more structured part of the internship. Interns that are involved in research will continue our journal club that was started in the summer, which is a great opportunity to ask questions and learn how manuscripts surrounding reproductive rights and health are published in scholarly journals. I am also very excited about the program’s new focus on career development and resume building; they’ve already brought in an inspiring female career coach to discuss the many paths we as college students can take to achieve our goals as young professionals and activists. The women in this program are diverse, passionate, and incredibly intelligent, and I look forward to learning alongside them as we continue to advocate for reproductive rights, health, and justice (in an era that needs as many advocates as ever).

CONNECT Reflection

My internship is over and I am now studying abroad in Barcelona! CONNECT was an amazing experience! I am happy to report that I achieved all of my learning objectives. I became proficient in court procedures and many days worked one-on-one with clients helping them through their 209-A hearings. After a rocky start on the hotline where I was very nervous I was able to feel comfortable and confident and was the person on call for two weeks. I participated in outreach programs and interacted with a diverse range of community members. Most importantly I worked with the police in a professional manner and helped clients feel safe and comfortable approaching the police.

I plan to use the knowledge I gained from CONNECT and apply it to my work with SAPHE when I return to Tulane. I hope to take on more responsibilities within SAPHE’s hotline and continue doing meaningful work on campus. I’ve been thinking a lot about how rewarding working with survivors has been for me and I plan to try to gain additional experience with survivor-counseling by pursuing similar internships in New Orleans.

To any student interested in an internship with CONNECT or with an organization that works with survivors I would recommend being open to new expierences. At times things can seem daunting and you might feel insecure in your abilities but you were trained to help and can help. I would also recommend coming to work being as friendly as possible and open to working as a team with your coworkers.

One of the really amazing aspects of my internship is that everyone that works for CONNECT is a woman. I was constantly surrounded by strong women leaders and that felt really empowering. My coworkers were mentors and inspirations to me. One woman who worked at CONNECT had just graduated college and CONNECT was her first job out of school. To work with someone just a couple years older than me who is already such a capable counselor was really inspiring. She was a leader and mentor to me and helped me feel comfortable at CONNECT. I think leadership is all around you in the work place and the more you learn the more you can help others and be a leader to others.

I learned that to become a more effective problem solver I have to keep an open mind. I can’t just think that everything will fit into one box and I have to be open to the idea of unexpected circumstances arising. I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and for everything I’ve gained from this experience.

Below is an advertisement I made that will be in the local paper this fall. It will be a sticker that people can take off the paper and keep with them. Hopefully more members of the community will learn about CONNECT and use their services.

 

#summer2018

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Reflection of my Summer at SBP

It is truly incredible how fast summer passed, and as I scurry from class to class on Tulane’s campus, I can’t help but think back over my summer at Sanford Burnham Prebys. Interning at a medical discovery institute opened my eyes to what a career in the biological research industry would look like. I gained a deeper understanding of research techniques such as qPCR and cell culture. I improved my interpersonal communication skills by working with various other lab members and communicating problems/successes with them. I was able to really become involved in in a project and gain a deep understanding of it. I am quite proud of working independently for most of the summer and being able to problem solve on my when own when needed.

I plan to build off the experiences of this summer by continuing research this fall in Dr. Laurie Earls’ lab. I feel confident in my skills and believe that my experience this summer prepared me well to transition to a research lab at Tulane.

After finishing my internship, I decided I want to learn more about senescence and epigenetics. Prior to my internship, I was terribly unfamiliar with either of those terms. Throughout the summer, I became mesmerized by the processes of senescent cells and human body’s ability to protect itself from harmful mutations or changes. I hope to explore the topic again in either a classroom setting or another research experience.

Advice I would give to a student interested in pursuing an internship in biological research would be to go for it! Don’t be afraid to contact professors or investigators who have projects that interest you. More often than not, they will be delighted to hear from an interested student who has taken the time to learn about their research. Taking initiative will reward you greatly!

Over the summer, I realized that the gender gap in science is very real but does not necessarily have to be a barrier to success in the field. While men are more prevalent in scientific research, that does not mean that women researchers are nonexistent. Seek out other women in the workplace or organization and strive to build connections that way. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind even when you feel outnumbered or intimidated.

I am so thankful to NCI for aiding me in my internship endeavors. It was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to see the places I will go with the lessons learned from this summer in tow.