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UConn Women’s Center Celebrates 50th Anniversary, Champions Reproductive Rights

The University of Connecticut’s Women’s Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the wake of a massive blow to women’s rights: the overturning of Roe v. Wade. A landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the right to have an abortion, Roe was decided just months after the UConn Women’s Center was formally established in 1972. Yet in June of this year, as we celebrate 50 years of feminist progress at UConn, Roe was overturned by the Supreme Court.

“I was babysitting two kids when I learned that Roe v. Wade was overturned,” said Chloe Hummel, a junior at UConn in an interview. “I remember feeling almost numb with shock…my heart broke for women who don’t live in more liberal states like Connecticut.” 

While Connecticut is a blue state with very liberal abortion laws, students and staff at UConn are still shocked and scared in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. Decided on June 24, 2022, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization held that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Therefore, Dobbs leaves the decision of the legality of abortion up to the states, overturning nearly 50 years of precedent with Roe

“We lost a civil right, that’s huge in the United States in a democratic, free society to have that happen,” said UConn Women’s Center Associate Director Kathy Fischer in an interview. “Yet, I can’t say we’re surprised.”

Fischer has served as Associate Director for more than two decades. She has spent months combing through Women’s Center archives, becoming very familiar with the history of the Center. Her extensive knowledge and experience in this realm made the overturning of Roe less of a shock, but no less distressing.

The UConn Women’s Center is located on the 4th floor of the Student Union. Over 30 student staff members work alongside professional staff to educate, advocate, and provide support services for students, faculty, and staff alike. 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, the Women’s Center has held various events throughout 2022, with more in the works. These include feminist art receptions, keynote speakers, open houses, and educational sessions to teach students about the legacy of feminist activism at UConn. A significant part of the Center’s self-proclaimed “Herstory” is intersectional advocacy for women’s rights— including reproductive rights.

The UConn Women’s Center was founded in 1972, an output of the broader civil rights movements sweeping the nation during that period. Amid the Women’s Center’s infancy in January 1973, feminists nationwide celebrated the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. However, many celebrated cautiously as they knew it would be a fight to keep the right to an abortion, a fundamental tenet of reproductive health and autonomy.

“Throughout the 50 years, almost immediately after Roe was passed, they started trying to take it away,” said Fischer. “But there’s been 50 years of fighting, chipping away at it.”

The “founding mothers” of the UConn Women’s Center implemented several initiatives to advocate for reproductive rights, while also fighting gender-based violence and other issues affecting women. The Violence Against Women Prevention Program emerged in 1980, which still exists today, and serves to address and prevent all forms of sexual violence through education, outreach, and advocacy. 

Furthermore, early UConn Women’s Center organizers used consciousness-raising groups to discuss their experiences around abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, and reproductive justice, among other issues. At that time, there was no access to information that could inform women about these matters, so these groups served a tremendous purpose.

“It’s still the water we swim in, and many of us don’t even know we’re wet.”

Kathy Fischer

“It’s still the water we swim in, and many of us don’t even know we’re wet,” said Fischer. “That’s where the ‘a-ha’ moments come in.”

As part of the 50th-anniversary celebration, students are reviving these initiatives into a “Consciousness Collective” to discuss pertinent issues facing women today. The Center also welcomed keynote speakers Roxanne Gay and Melissa Harris-Perry to speak to the UConn community. New York Times bestselling author Roxanne Gay spoke to students last spring, while writer and former MSNBC political commentator Melissa Harris-Perry took the Jorgensen stage on Friday, November 4th.

“It was so incredibly inspiring to be in the presence of such a trailblazing intersectional feminist during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UConn Women’s Center,” said Kallan Doyon, UConn senior and attendee of the Roxanne Gay event. “It was like this huge sign of how far we’ve come to have been able to have someone as groundbreaking as Roxanne Gay there to share her own journey as a Black feminist and as a writer in a world where her voice is never a priority.” 

While celebrating how far they’ve come, the Women’s Center also encourages students to continue to advocate for issues that matter, including fighting for reproductive rights. The Dobbs decision proves that the fight is nowhere near over.

“We need to continue to show up and continue to demand, quite frankly, comprehensive health care. Period,” said Fischer. “The government has no place in legislating people’s bodies.”

Fischer urges students to vote in the midterm elections this month and participate in Women’s Center events and activities if they are interested in learning more. 

“Individually we can’t do it all, but if we do our piece in our spheres of influence, we can change the world.

Molly is the President and Editor-in-Chief for Her Campus UConn. A senior at the University of Connecticut, she is currently studying Communication with minors in English and Political Science. She enjoys writing, film, coffee, art, dogs, and anything fall-related.