Jogging, panting, and feeling accomplished, 83 runners crossed the finish line of the Reproductive Justice 5k on Sunday, Oct. 8. The event, a collaboration by students with support from the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (GSFS) and Chellis House, took place under windy conditions, but the rain fortuitously stopped just in time for students and townspeople to set off past the Mahaney Center for the Arts and around the golf course. Along the trail, staked into the ground, were signs with little known facts about the state of reproductive rights and teachings in the United States. The main purpose of the race, as one of the founders, Mika Morton ’19, stated, was education, teaching people that “reproductive justice is a lot more than just abortion…or being pro-choice.”
The creators of the event, Morton, Cicilia Robison ’18, and Miranda-Max de Beer ’19, based their event on SisterSong, a reproductive justice collective comprised of women of color that defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain bodily anatomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” This broad definition takes into account other variables such as race, class, geography, and orientation, which play vital roles in determining who gets what type of access to reproductive rights and procedures. Black women, for example, are four times as likely to die in childbirth than white women, being less likely to receive lifesaving treatments.
The inspiration for the 5k, this being its second year, emerged out of a Politics of Reproduction class taught by Carly Thomsen, an assistant professor of GSFS, last year. As Thomsen explained, all the students “complete a course project through which they translate an academic argument articulated in a course text into an alternative format with the intention of making said argument mobile.”
The founders of the 5k, who were awarded an honorable mention for the Alison Fraker Prize by the GSFS department for their project, intended to create a platform that could explain reproductive justice in its broadest terms. The goal, as Morton said, was to “reach a different demographic,” bringing an academic subject into the realm of athletics..
One of the main hurdles of spreading awareness of reproductive justice is that it is typically considered to be a priority only for women’s rights groups. Katie Cox ’20.5, one of the participants, pointed out that the people fighting for these rights are usually “feminist groups, working to make reproductive rights available to everyone.”
Education was the primary goal of the event, and, for all intents and purposes, the goal was fully achieved. Organizer Miranda-Max de Beer said that, despite the time crunch in getting the race organized, she was “really happy” with the results. The race gave students an open, relaxed environment in which to talk about hard topics, she said. And talk they did. After the race, students congregated in Axinn, where they tie dyed t-shirts over snacks.
Nina Cruz ’21 said that the race changed her perception on the issue. She now has a more, “expansive and inclusive view of what reproductive rights are, which include access to affordable birth control and sex education.” This broadened understanding stemmed from the signs posted along the running route and from pamphlets handed out after the 5k.
Statistics about reproductive justice and access to health care posted on signs around the course included: 45 percent of pregnancies in the US are unintended, some HIV-positive women are sterilized during childbirth without informed consent, 24 states and Washington, D.C. require sex education, yet only 13 states require it to be medically accurate, there have been 57 abortion restrictions enacted in 2017, being child-free can be liberating and the U.S. has the largest gap between parent and non-parent happiness in comparison to 22 other industrialized countries.
For additional information, Morton suggests going to the Guttmacher Institute website. “If you want to go be outraged sometime, go check out their website,” she said.
Thomsen said she thinks the event was a success. “The GSFS department and Chellis are wildly proud of these students and excited to continue to partner on student initiated and feminist theory-informed events,” she said.