MLK Day Recap: The Decolonization of the Sexual and Reproductive Health of BIPOC Communities

A total of 219 people gathered over Zoom for the “The Decolonization of the Sexual and Reprodutive Health of BIPOC Communities” workshop, which centered on the intersection of decolonizing and reproductive justice. 

Elliott Vahey ‘23 and Rachel Retana ‘22 were the hosts of the workshop alongside Assistant Professor of Politics and Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) Seulgie Lim and Professor of Sociology Emily Kane, who also serves on the programming committee for GSS. Also present were three students from the “Birthing While Black” course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Africana Cassandra Shepard during the fall 2021 semester: Emma Rippey ‘24, Daniah Foster ‘22 and Aaliyah Black ‘22. 

The workshop opened with the “Reform and Revolution” visual created by Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies Eve Tuck, who works at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Professor Tuck’s visual showed a spectrum between reform and revolution, provoking discussion on the dissatisfaction of having to choose between the two actions. 

Workshop participants were then asked to provide short definitions of decolonization using the chat function in Zoom, producing responses such as “unlearning and reinventing,” “dismantling oppressive systems” and “breaking and rebuilding.” 

Led by Retana and Vahey, the informational part of the workshop ensued, during which the hosts explored external, internal and settler colonialism as well as the history of reproductive rights in America. The videos “The Racist Roots of Reproductive Rights in America” and “What Is Reproductive Justice” raised awareness of the history of eugenics in the U.S., forced sterilization laws and the current pressure low-income women of color face to use birth control. 

Breakout rooms were used twice during the workshop to allow participants to engage in conversation about what they had learned and how to incorporate this knowledge into their everyday practices. 

Toward the conclusion of the workshop, Rippey, Foster and Black presented their thesis and synopsis of papers they had written in Professor Shepard’s “Birthing While Black” course. Rippey spoke of the encouragement or discouragement of Black women’s reproduction as dependent on capitalism; Foster provided solutions to improving the medical care Black women recieve (e.g. holistic forms of healthcare, holding policy makers accountable and providing accessibility); and Black discussed the reproductive technologies that have been developed through the experimentation on Black bodies and their current and historical use for controlling Black women’s bodies. 

The workshop concluded with a brief share-out from breakout rooms.