Category Archives: Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health

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!)

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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.

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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).

Parting words on my summer with Lift Louisiana

Hey guys! It’s Anna with Lift Louisiana through the Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health internship program.

Given that my last blog post was only two weeks into my internship, I’m not really sure where to start on this one. A whole summer leaves a lot to cover.

Through learning reproduction laws and landmark supreme court cases or enhancing my design skills with social media posts, my biggest takeaway from the internship is the importance of sharing knowledge and passion for a certain cause to influence policy decisions.

With Justice Kennedy’s retirement and Trump’s promise to appoint a pro-life justice, a lot was put at stake for the future of reproduction rights this summer. Lift’s late June fundraiser scheduled to celebrate the two year anniversary of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt quickly became a call to action to the organization’s supporters rather than a festivity of progress.

While news headlines made it obvious that the Supreme Court’s future composition could threaten the security of Roe v. Wade, I was less aware of the state-level policies that, in fact, have a more powerful and immediate effect on abortion access. If Kavanaugh is confirmed as a justice, the national right to abortion may be lost, but this is most dangerous in states with conservative courts and legislatures who will no longer be protected by a federal government that supports reproductive rights. In Louisiana, restrictive measures including a 15-week abortion ban, 72-hour waiting period, and an admitting privileges requirement are currently in litigation. With a conservative appeals court, we expect these will be signed into law, and a new pro-life justice in the Supreme Court is unlikely to question them. All but one abortion clinic would be forced to shut down.

I’ve spent the last few weeks of my internship creating a toolkit that encourages constituents to meet with their state and federal legislators to discuss issues and offer policy solutions. Knowing the extent of state-level politics in abortion accessibility, I took this project very seriously. Previously, I’d often negate the impact of local politics, but a potential change in the supreme court makeup elucidates the realities of federalism. And one of the positive aspects of our mixed system of government is that individuals do have sway, especially at local levels. Legislators can’t be experts on everything, so individuals in positions of knowledge, passion, and privilege can maximize their rights by meeting with and influencing lawmakers and government officials. To me, this extends to using social media to share my opinions and experiences with others. I don’t feel comfortable enough as an advocate to talk to a legislator yet, but I can take on a role of exposing the truth and starting the conversation with friends, peers, and other organizations.

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As I finish my summer with NCI and Lift Louisiana I am extremely thankful for this opportunity. I’ve learned a lot about reproductive rights and the complicated politics behind them as well as about my power in influencing social change. I feel more confident in my political economy/public policy major and have made connections that will propel me through the rest of my undergraduate career and into my professional life. I am excited to see what the future holds thanks to all the doors this internship has opened up for me.

Wrapping Up My Summer with NCI

Hello, NCI! My name is Julia Guy, and I am a rising junior finishing my second “semester” as a Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health intern, though it is actually my third semester working as a research assistant for Dr. Clare Daniel. This summer has absolutely flown by. It was my first summer in New Orleans, and while I spent it working and learning a lot, I still felt like I had a relaxing break from classes and the bustle of school year activities.

Much of that working and learning took place at NCI with my work for Dr. Daniel. In just two short weeks, we managed to launch two projects that aimed to advance two distinct areas of reproductive justice: working systematically to access to shame-free information about reproduction and relationships across Louisiana, and increasing equitable birth outcomes in New Orleans through maternal and child health.

The first project with which I assisted aims to examine the capacity for comprehensive sex education in Louisiana. In consultation with the Louisiana Institute of Public Health, we are focusing our efforts on specific areas of the state that have been the subject of fewer sex education investigations. Since Louisiana state law bars students from participating in surveys about their sexual behaviors and practices, little data exists on what exactly goes on in public school classrooms across the state, despite the state receiving federal grants for sex ed. Comprehensive and transparent sex education is essential for young people to make informed decisions about their body and reproductive choices, but without information on the current status of classrooms, legislators concerned about content, costs, and outcomes may dismiss efforts for meaningful change. Consequently, we plan to contact school administrators to discover what exactly is taught in their respective individual school. As Dr. Daniel assembles her proposal to gain IRB proposal, one of my roles has been to collect and catalogue all of the school and potential contacts across the state to potentially survey. As we continue this project into the fall semester, I am excited to see how the proposal advances and how my hours of work contribute.

The second project allowed me to explore a different side of reproductive justice: child and maternal health. In collaboration with Dr. Maeve Wallace at the graduate School of Public Health, I received the opportunity to research Maternal and Child Health Divisions in city health departments across the country. My findings will help inform a proposal to effect change in improving birth equity outcomes in our own city. While this project will not be my main focus going forward, I am eager to track the progress of efforts on such an urgent issue.

At this halfway point in my undergraduate career, I am incredibly grateful to NCI and Dr. Daniel for the opportunity to do work that has given me a framework for what I would eventually like to do after graduation. The research I do and the projects to which I contribute are important, informational, and hopefully influential, and that in of itself is a worthy accomplishment. However, gathering information and effective, professional communication has been invaluable to me personally as well as applicable to other positions beyond NCI. For example, not only did this summer’s projects helped me practice synthesizing both quantitative and qualitative information as part of the process towards greater reproductive justice goals, but my position with NCI provided me the financial ability to intern with another organization as well whose work applies more directly to my course of study. Using the skills that I developed in my research assistant position, I was able to help a small nonprofit with a variety of tasks, including their popular community environmental workshops, This hands-on experience combined with the weekly meetings with reproductive justice leaders across the city helped me realize that in my career, I want to help people overcome systematic barriers that prevent their participation in social, environmental, and reproductive justice through providing pathways that make these issues and their solutions more approachable and applicable. It is still a broad, expansive idea, and I am so excited to see where I’ll go with NCI and how my position here will help me further define my goals throughout the upcoming semester.

Picture: the health districts of Louisiana guiding my research

Source: Louisiana Department of  Health