How the younger generation responds to a Roe v. Wade reversal will be pivotal in determining what the future looks like, according to Jennie Sweet-Cushman, an associate professor of political science at Chatham University.

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“As a college professor and a college professor with, you know, a large percentage of female-identifying students, they have taken these rights for granted. And I would say that to them as well.

“I think they’ve been so removed from the struggles that, you know, my mother’s generation went through and fought for to get to the point where Roe was law of the land. They’re so far removed from that; it’s not like there’s a history class that’s teaching you these things. … Very few students are being exposed to that, and so at least right now, I don’t know if it’s going to be mobilizing for them.”

What message do you have for the younger generation?

“They’re a very empathetic generation; they feel things very deeply, and they are certainly sympathetic to others’ experiences. So I think we need people that they can relate to, and I don’t think it’s me, to be telling their stories, in not a news, kind of lecture-y kind of way, but in a compelling kind of way.

“What I’d like to see is more very personal story-oriented advocacy from people who are influential in the generation, like on TikTok.”

Have attitudes toward civil rights swung between acceptance and rejection before? 

Professor Jennie Sweet-Cushman. (Courtesy of Jennie Sweet-Cushman)

“We haven’t amended the Constitution all that often, but where we have, a majority of those amendments are either to refine the process by which we do government or to  provide civil rights to people.

“Now, in practice, it’s been messy. But over time, we’ve expanded access to civil rights, and we’ve recognized civil rights for more and more and more people.

“It has generally been forward progress, which is why overturning Roe is one of the largest things that has ever happened in U.S. history for a multitude of reasons. So, you know, hopefully that ship gets righted somehow. But I don’t see a path to that immediately.”

What has proven effective as a way for people to achieve social change? 

“They have to vote. And that’s not just, you know, in the general election, and it’s not just where you think your vote is going to make a difference, because your vote always makes a difference.

“Beyond that, nonviolent civil disobedience — and people are so busy these days that that’s hard; it’s a tall order. But that’s what I think needs to happen.” 

What’s at stake?

“We are entering a situation in this country where there is going to be a circumstance of forced birth for a number of women. And that in and of itself is just tragic. 

“But I think the bigger point and the broader point is that, as a person with a uterus, if you don’t have control over your own reproductive choices, you don’t have freedom. You don’t have economic freedom, you don’t have personal freedom, you don’t have equality in your family and you certainly don’t have equality under the law.” 

Emma Folts covers higher education at PublicSource, in partnership with Open Campus. She can be reached at emma@publicsource.org.

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Emma is a higher education reporter for PublicSource. In her role, she collaborates with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom focused on bolstering higher education coverage in local communities. Emma is...