Category Archives: Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Health

Research Internship at SPHTM with Dr. Lederer

My name is Kelsey Williams, and I am thrilled to have just begun my reproductive health and reproductive rights internship. I’m a junior from San Diego, California majoring in Public Health and on a pre-med track. My academic interests center on women’s health, particularly how women can become more empowered through improved health and knowledge about their bodies. As I look beyond graduation, I am torn between continuing to medical school and becoming an OB/GYN or pursuing a PhD in Public Health to do research. I am particularly excited about this internship, because I hope it will clarify some of my career goals.

This semester I will be working with Dr. Alyssa Lederer on sex education research. My first project is to compile a literature review on the effectiveness of online sex education programs, and then we will move on to analyzing the data she has collected on the subject. I have already improved my library research skills and have been introduced to several qualitative analysis skills. I am excited to gain a more thorough understanding of how to carry out public health research.

Beyond working with Dr. Lederer, I am involved in Students United for Reproductive Justice, Phi Mu, and calculus tutoring. I’m also a Newcomb Scholar, and I hope that many of the feminist perspectives I am learning through that program can help to influence my research analysis.

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Internship with Lift Louisiana

980251_10201592251042093_494891359_o My name is Claire Kueffner and I am a senior at Tulane University studying Legal Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. Beyond my studies, I am also involved with the prelaw fraternity at Tulane. I am also the president of the Tulane Debate Team, and I coach high school debate at a local high school, Isidore Newman. My career interests center around using the law and my advocacy skills for the betterment of marginalized groups.

This semester, I will be working with Lift Louisiana on several projects to improve local sex education in Louisiana. I will primarily be working on a project called My Louisiana Sex Ed, where we will be working to encourage Louisiana youth to share stories about their sex ed experiences. We will use these stories to present arguments to policymakers about how sex ed is failing Louisiana’s youth. I will also be working to launch this story sharing program on Tulane’s campus and other college campuses around the state. This aims to both collect stories to understand the various types of sex ed that students have received, but also to increase sexual education on college campuses by allowing students to learn from one another.

I am so excited to use my advocacy and communication skills to promote awareness about the problems that Louisiana has with sexual education, and hopefully, use this as a political tool to create substantial change for youth in Louisiana.

Internship with the New Orleans Abortion Fund

NOW-NYC GalaMy name is Alexandria Nichols (the one on left), and I’m a senior at Tulane University majoring in English, Psychology as well as Gender and Sexuality Studies.  I am in the 4+1 Master’s program for English, so I have no plans of leaving New Orleans anytime soon.  In addition to my academics, I’ve worked as Building Manager at the Lavin-Bernick Center (LBC) for the past year.  However, most of my time is spent contributing to Greek life on Tulane’s campus.  I’m currently the president of Delta Xi Nu Multicultural Sorority, but I’ve previously held countless other positions including membership educator, alumnae liaison, and signature-event chair.  I am also the president of the Multicultural Greek Council, which I helped to reinstitute on Tulane’s campus this past year.  Our central focus has been to integrate the council into the rest of the Greek community primarily through the promotion of diversity and inclusivity.

This semester, I’m extremely eager to work with NOAF as a fundraising intern.  I hope to help establish connections with local universities through outreach and fundraising events as well as find donors in New Orleans who are able to recognize the importance of the organization’s work.  I plan to not only utilize the many skills I’ve gained this past summer while working for the National Organization for Women – NYC as their Development Intern but to also improve them further as I continue my work as a fundraiser.  While I learn more about the particular struggles that the women of New Orleans face on a daily basis, I know that I will only be that much more motivated to help them access their reproductive rights.  I’ve always seen development as the foundation on which an organization is built, so I’m keen to learn about the particular strategies that NOAF and other non-profit organizations have found to work most effectively in the New Orleans area.  Although I’m originally from Boston, I hope to stay in the Crescent City after graduation and to continue working for the indispensable organizations that defend the rights of all women, but especially those of women of color.

Wrap-Up: Internship with New Orleans Abortion Fund (NOAF)

 

This summer, I’d say I’ve completed a thorough introductory education not only in reproductive justice, but also in community organizing. I started with conducting personal research, shifted to attending community events, and ended with organizing NOAF’s first-ever community canvass. In organizing this canvass, I learned how much of a team effort organizing should be.

Developing our canvassing script, for instance, was a five person project. Hannah Cohen, another NOAF intern, brought her professional canvassing experience to the table and helped me create the canvassing script’s initial draft. Another NOAF third intern, Paloma Pinto, brought her communications background to the table and proposed some effective edits. Ben Zucker from Step Up Louisiana contributed perspective from his organization’s membership-based grassroots strategy and his background as a union organizer to ideate before the script’s drafting phase and to streamline the script later on. NOAF board member Maria Wickstrom contributed her extensive labor organizing experience with some final edits. This extensive drafting process allowed me to grow not only in my teamwork abilities, but in my understanding of the importance of strategic messaging to culture change and community engagement.

The soft launch of our canvassing campaign was terribly successful, largely due to our well-thought out messaging strategy. Instead of canvassing with a specifically pro-abortion message, we focused on the issue of the loud, obnoxious anti-choice protesters who camp out outside the Women’s Health Care Center to harass patients and neighbors each morning. In this way, we were able to identify and connect with NOAF supporters in the neighborhood. However, we were also able to call in neighbors who were pro-life or undecided but agreed that the protesters were disturbing their community to the detriment of clinic patients, patients of the 20 nearby health care providers, their families, and their neighbors.

Though not everyone has the ability to canvass, the time to clinic escort, or the money to donate to the Fund, one thing everyone can do is to begin conversations about abortion. Everyone can start to normalize the word “abortion” and experiences surrounding abortion among your families, friends, and peers. Abortion is not nearly as rare as one might expect. One in three US women will obtain an abortion at some point in her life. You can even take it one step further and host a house party through NOAF’s OutLoud Story Sharing program. I’ve learned this summer that these conversations are an essential component to changing hearts, and it’s nearly impossible to change minds without changing hearts first.

Last day with NOAF, Tip of the Iceberg with Reproductive Rights and Justice

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Wow. I can’t believe my internship with the New Orleans Abortion Fund is coming to a close. This summer has gone by so fast, probably because of all that was packed into it. From the first public OutLoud event, to intimate story sharing house parties, to NOAF’s first canvass, I’ve learned so much and gained experience I couldn’t have gotten any other way.

In my role as OutLoud coordinator for NOAF OutLoud story sharing events, I’ve gained skills in event planning, logistical organization, and facilitation. By guiding discussions and presenting the stories of people with abortion experiences in an open and accessible way, I’ve gained leadership skills while learning from their stories myself. My internship has also given me invaluable experience working with a non-profit, something I plan to do in my future career. I’ve gained so much learning from Amy and the other NOAF members, planning and attending events, and escorting at the Women’s Health Clinic. While reproductive rights and justice have always been passions of mine, this experience has opened my eyes to all I can actually do to make a difference. I’ve expanded my knowledge to include so much more about policy, the important players in Louisiana, how NOAF operates and the experiences of women who everyday fight to receive the healthcare access they need.

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I plan to continue attending NOAF events and escorting at the clinic as much as I can. I hope to be involved in Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice work in some capacity in the future, whether its working in non-profits like NOAF or simply continuing to learn, share and fight for those rights. Having the right to abortion care is useless if you don’t have access due to intersecting oppressions of race, class, and gender. I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved in this work to move past thinking about it, and get out there! Join clubs at Tulane like Students United for Reproductive Justice, and reach out to organization you’d like to work with. NOAF is looking for people to host OutLoud story sharing parties with their peers, a great way to contribute to a movement of sharing, accepting and advocating for reproductive rights.

Research Assistant Update!

I have been a research assistant to Dr. Alyssa Lederer for just about 7 months now. The experience has been incredibly enriching. I have learned so much about myself, my academic capabilities, and new passions in research. We have covered a range of topics from perceptions of STIs to practices in survey incentives. While the two seem to have very little connection on the surface, I have learned that in the field of public health broad subjects are often influencing each other.

The first manuscript I worked on with Dr. Lederer is in the publishing process with the journal: Sexually Transmitted Diseases. I am very excited to have the opportunity to be a published author. Dr. Lederer has been very helpful in allowing me to be a part of the entire process. She has included me in all decisions and encouraged me as a writer, a researcher, and a woman. I am very grateful to be working with such an inspiring academic. Though our research is most applicable to sex education our dedication to reproductive health and reproductive justice is evident in the conversations we have and the emails we share. I look forward to these next few weeks of work as I know they will be fruitful with even more knowledge.

From Coding to Dissecting: My First Two Weeks in the BG&R Lab

I have officially finished my first two weeks working with Dr. Kristin Miller and her team at the Biomechanics of Growth and Remodeling lab! The BG&R Lab dedicates its time to researching the tissue within woman’s reproductive system, specifically what mechanical properties factor into the deterioration of strength in the pelvic wall. There are multiple projects within this area of study, specifically two focusing on Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) and Pre-term Birth. There are also projects that focus on tendons in the leg and aortic dissection, which is a tear in the inner lining of the heart that leads to blood leakage. Basically, what the BG&R lab all boils down to is the study of how the extra-cellular matrix (ECM) of tissue reacts to stress and strain.

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Walking into the lab on the first day, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I worked in the lab a bit this past semester, but I knew the direction of my responsibilities were more than likely to change come summer. I thought that I would probably be another lab hand, helping with some experiments, making solutions, and reading papers. I was more than surprised when I was told by my supervisor Cassie, a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Tulane, that I would be working on my own project! I have now undertaken the task of writing the code for a new plug-in being used to model the tissue we use in our experiments.

That probably sounds like jibberish to most people, and it did to me too at first. I soon learned that the software we use to model our experimental data is called FEBio and is used for Finite Element Analysis. Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computerized method for predicting how a product reacts to real-world forces, vibration, heat, fluid flow, and other physical effects. (1) This type of analysis allows us to measure how the tissue we work with should react to different stress and strain values placed on it, and whether it will break, bend, stretch and hold its authenticity, or whether it will lose its strength. As a computer science major, I have experience with many different programming languages, including C++ which FEBio is programmed in. I was surprised to find out that I was the only one in the lab with exposure to this language, and that they needed me to decipher their problem of creating a “plug in.” What a plug in does is allow us to model our tissue in FEBio using the parameters that we know through our experimentation affect our material. This comes in the form of an 8-page constitutive model, which is basically just a long and complex equation that models how the tissue behaves. (It’s as scary as you’re thinking it is, don’t worry I’ve included a picture of the first page below). So I was given the project to take this model, take what we know about FEBio, and figure out a way to write this plug in. Once we have a running plug in, we can then use this in our models by selecting on this plug in as our “Material” in the list of parameters, that way when we apply the different values of stress and strain we will be able to see what should happen to the tissue.

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I was extremely excited to learn that I would be undertaking this project, and that everyone was looking forward to seeing what I could come up with. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on me, but it also makes me feel like I am an integral part of the lab, and a true member of the team. To me, this all seems like a big puzzle, but much more complicated because I don’t have all the pieces, so I have to find them. It’s also nice to be able to help others in the lab understand coding and C++, and makes me feel my studying and skills are really paying off. Now I know this may sound extremely boring to some people, and trust me at times it is. I have also had the chance to see other aspects of the lab, such as touring the surgery rooms and observing how the rats are dissected and their tissue is prepared for loading in our biaxial testing machine (Pictured below). I am very excited for the rest of the summer, and to see what I am capable of accomplishing in terms of determining how to write this plug in. I am also anticipating getting to do some hands on work, such as dissections and tissue testing.

I love the possibilities this internship provides, and am glad that I will get to continue this into the school year. In the Biomedical Engineering curriculum, there is a required course called “Research and Professional Practice,” which basically just means working in a lab underneath a professor and taking on your own project within their lab. It is incredible that I have gotten the opportunity to start building a relationship with the members of this lab, and that I will get to continue my project through my junior and senior year in the same lab. I was fortunate that all of the professors in the BME department are very receptive to undergraduate students joining their labs, so this internship opportunity was not too difficult to find. If you are looking for an internship in research, there are so many opportunities at Tulane that you can take advantage of. Just reaching out to a professor you may enjoy learning from, and doing your own investigating into what they study is the first step in this process. I can promise from experience that it pays off, and hopefully it will lead to an incredible opportunity to grow both academically and professionally.

(1) https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/finite-element-analysis

My First Month with NOAF!

Since starting my internship with NOAF, I’ve been most surprised to learn about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. I spent a good amount of time during first two weeks of my internship conducting research about the history of abortion in this country, and I’ve learned that the abortion narratives I grew up hearing are simply unfactual. For instance, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 59% of women receiving an abortion have already had at least one child and 62% are spiritual. Raised in suburban Ohio at an all-girls Catholic high school, I never heard these stories. As it turns out, neither did most of my friends and family. So it’s been fascinating to have these conversations with people I love. Though sorting through decades of misinformation can often be difficult, I’ve found that people are usually willing to talk to me, if only because the information is coming directly from someone they know.

As the weeks have progressed, I’ve moved toward working on NOAF’s first community canvassing project. During the last week in July, we’ll be canvassing the neighborhood surrounding the Women’s Health Care Center – New Orleans’ only abortion clinic. A large chunk of my work for the past two weeks has consisted of meeting with other organizers in Louisiana to explore options and goals for the canvas, setting up organizational details, and publicizing among NOAF members. I’ve also been working as a clinic escort one morning per week in front of the Women’s Health Care Center, ensuring that the space is safe and as comfortable as possible for patients amidst the protesters. On those mornings, I’ve really enjoyed meeting other clinic escorts and hearing their stories.

One piece of advice I’ve received this summer is that, as a mission-driven young person, the best place for me to make an impact on health injustices will change throughout my career. One year I might be working with a non-profit, the next in an elected official’s office, the next with a consulting firm. Therefore, it’s important to me that I gain experiences in multiple professional spaces. My internship with NOAF has allowed me to learn how a local non-profit works, but has also given me the opportunity to meet with and learn from folks working with diverse types of organizations. I’ve met with an organizer from a brand new New Orleans non-profit, talked with a clinic administrator in a more conservative area of the state, and heard from a regional administrator of a large national organization. It’s becoming clear to me that there are thousands of ways to be involved in this work and that the work couldn’t be accomplished without all of them. One thing everyone can do, though, is inform themselves about the facts of reproductive health, rights, and justice. The Guttmacher Institute is a wonderful resource for this. Once you have some facts, you can start conversations. And conversations are a powerful tool for culture change.

Research and writing about STI knowledge

Working with Dr. Alyssa Lederer over the past several weeks has been an incredible opportunity to expand my research skills and explore sexuality health education issues. Our primary project is conducting qualitative research on STI knowledge of college students. Alyssa previously designed an instrument to assess students’ understanding of critical sexuality health information before and after viewing an educational program. A central question of the post evaluation asked about new information students learned from the intervention. The uniqueness of our research stems from the qualitative research design. While the pre and post-test format provides quantitative data about particular items, the open-ended question allows students to delineate information they explicitly learned as a result of the program. I have spent the past few weeks categorizing the data to essentially quantify a qualitative measure.

I am amazed at how much I have learned so far this summer! In addition to learning a new data assessment technique, I have further developed my research presentation skills by refining literature review searches and understanding the somewhat formulaic nature of manuscript writing. I have identified partner sex communication scales that will contribute to the National College Health Assessment survey. While I enjoy the autonomy of the position, I appreciate my weekly meetings with Alyssa to deliberate over details of the research process and discuss interesting findings.

As a rising senior, the end of college is bittersweetly approaching. While my desire to become a physician has not wavered, I hope to explore the health field in the areas of health education and advocacy prior to diving into the medical area. Conducting research on gaps in sexuality health education and possible adverse implications has solidified my resolution to alleviate structural inadequacies in the health field. I was shocked at how deficient my sexual health knowledge (as well as many of the participants) was prior to working on this project. I hope to work with other reproductive health and rights interns to expose the Tulane community to the key issues we are working on.

NOAF OutLoud and a Future of Story Sharing

In my time so far with the New Orleans Abortion Fund, I’m already learning more about abortion access and running a non-profit than I could have anticipated and I know this is only the beginning! I’m very excited to be gaining the skills necessary and learning more about what goes into a community engaged non profit, including event planning and story sharing, through my focus on the NOAF OutLoud campaign. The NOAF OutLoud campaign is based on centering the narrative of abortion access and focusing on the women, partners, family, clinic escorts and more people that actually go through abortion experiences, rather than seeing this issue as a partisan debate.

In helping Amy plan our first public OutLoud story sharing event and in planning my own OutLoud house parties, I’ve gained so much valuable insight into what goes into event planning and story sharing facilitation. These skills will not only help me in my future work with reproductive health and justice organizations, non-profits, museums or schools that will include event and community engagement opportunities, but the ability to facilitate, listen and engage participants will also be invaluable. In my goals to further my anthropological research, learning to organize story sharing will be essential for accessing first hand cultural knowledge and perspective.

The skills I’m learning with NOAF in my work as a Clinic Escort, in planning rallies and events and conducting community outreach online and in person are practical skills I’ll be able to take to to other non-profits. In addition, the first hand knowledge of abortion access laws, restrictions, policy and personal experiences will help guide me in future Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice initiatives and organizations that I plan to continue to work with throughout my personal and professional future. I plan to continue my work as a Clinic Escort with NOAF, and hope others who are interested in affirming and protecting abortions access rights will become involved in that amazing volunteer opportunity as well.

Amy and one of our stickers at our first public NOAF OutLoud event.

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