A group of eight college presidents met with Vice President Kamala Harris Monday at the White House to discuss the concerns and challenges facing colleges and their students after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion. in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
“These leaders are leading at an extraordinary time for many reasons,” Harris said. “They are building the future of our nation to meet the challenges of the moment, but we are also doing it in the context of a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to take away a constitutional right that had been recognized for the American people, to the women of America.”
The presidents said the Dobbs decision had both short-term and long-term consequences for higher education, including potential impacts on medical school curricula, reproductive care available to students on campus, laws on confidentiality and mental health of students.
Women under 24 are most likely to seek abortion care. This includes 92% of women in college, who are also three times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than other women.
“The greatest challenge facing faculty, staff and students in schools today is the confusion and uncertainty around a 50-state patchwork of varying laws and guidelines that, frankly, has only become more complex and more chaotic than with the Dobbs decision,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, who was also present at the meeting. “The clock is ticking. Every campus and every university in America [must] understand what can and cannot be done to support students, faculty and staff in particular, to answer questions about whether or not their students have access to the full range of reproductive health.
Some present come from states that have enacted near-total abortion bans since the Supreme Court ruling in June. This included Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Oberlin College, and Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University.
“Young men and women face increasing challenges in ensuring a quality academic and educational experience. … The Dobbs decision dramatically compounds this reality. It disproportionately affects women with less means, who are most often women of color and it limits basic access to quality health care often provided by organizations committed to reproductive rights,” Ambar said. “College campuses tend to be microcosms of the society and these inequalities will therefore be played out on our campuses in the same way as they are played out in society.”
Others came from campuses in states that have taken steps to protect abortion rights, but still expressed similar concerns about how the decision could still impact their students, especially college students. coming to their colleges from states that ban abortion. This included Audrey Bilger, President of Reed College, Roberta Cordano, President of Gallaudet University, Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University, Howard Gillman, Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, Philip Hanlon, President of Dartmouth College and Felix Matos Rodriguez. , the chancellor of the City University of New York.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was also present.
A meeting behind closed doors
The conversation took place in a closed meeting with Vice President Harris, however, the Vice President and the Presidents made comments summarizing their concerns to the public before the meeting began. Mitchell, who spoke with Inside Higher Education after the meeting, said it was “really powerful and productive”.
The central purpose of the meeting, according to Mitchell, was to provide accurate information to students and find answers to complex new legal questions about what services college campuses can and cannot offer after the Dobbs ruling.
“Secretary Cardona and the Vice President both spoke about the importance of collecting and disseminating accurate information so that students, faculty and staff somehow know what services are available under the law, what services are not and to be able to get good results quickly, especially with the start of the school year approaching,” Mitchell said.
Many presidents whose colleges are in states where abortion rights remain intact have expressed concern about the impact the ruling could have on international students. President Biden recently signed two executive orders addressing abortion access, one of which will allow states to use Medicaid funds to help women travel to other states for an abortion; However, many questions remain about where students are protected and where they are not, and as state reproductive rights laws continue to change, these questions remain unanswered at this time.
“In Oregon, there may be relative safety, but students are susceptible to having their rights violated simply by leaving the state to return to their hometown to complete internships or conduct research elsewhere in the United States” , said Bilger of Reed.
Other legal issues that were raised were the question of what constitutes aiding and abetting as university staff help students access abortion in states where it is now illegal, and the rights student privacy.
“We are very concerned about the legal protections that exist for our out-of-state patients and especially our out-of-state students who use our student healthcare facilities, because the privacy protections around these student healthcare facilities are different from the privacy protections you see in other clinical settings,” Gillman said.
The presidents were particularly concerned about how the Dobbs decision could impact medical school offerings.
“The entire public health ecosystem of the country in training people, the next generation of doctors, in family planning and in obstetrics and gynecology is going to be severely disrupted,” Gillman said.
Presidents have expressed concern that a student could complete medical school in a state that has protected access to abortion and be placed in a residency program in a state where abortion is illegal. Colleges may also have students transfer from states that have banned certain abortion practices in light of Dobbs.
Gillman said UC Irvine Medical Centers expects a “huge” increase in patients traveling from out of state for abortions.
Others have also noted the disproportionate impact the Dobbs decision will have on women, especially low-income women and women of color.
Frederick of Howard University, an HBCU with a 74% female student population, said: “One of the things that concerns us at Howard is that we are actually sending more African Americans to school. of medicine than anyone in the country. That training gets more complicated.”
Cordano of Gallaudet University, a college for deaf and hard of hearing students, mentioned how the Dobbs decision could have a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities, who experience sexual assault at a rate one and a half times higher than other women.
University leaders echoed a similar concern: the intersection between the Dobbs decision and its potential impacts on the preexisting mental health crisis on college campuses.
“I think we’ve all made the connection between the general mental health crisis and the particular vulnerability of women,” Mitchell said after the meeting. “It adds to the precariousness of the situation of women on university campuses.”