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Sonoma State University student meets with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss abortion rights

Sonoma State University student Jessica Valdez was one of 75 student leaders from 33 states who met Oct. 14 with Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House.|

Sonoma State University student Jessica Valdez left a recent meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris feeling encouraged and empowered, but she knows the fight to protect certain rights is far from over.

The 21-year-old Chicano and Latin studies major was one of 75 student leaders from 33 states invited to a roundtable discussion with Harris on Oct. 14 at the White House. Harris wanted to hear how students were reacting to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June that overturned Roe v. Wade, Valdez said, and what actions they were taking in response.

“There was a lot of encouragement and inspiration to continue fighting on our campuses for abortion rights,” Valdez said of the meeting.

Valdez, along with fellow student Sabrina Blais, had organized a pro-choice protest earlier this month on campus, which led to her being nominated to meet with Harris.

During the meeting, students highlighted how young people are organizing to fight restrictive abortion laws, and how these laws are creating confusion for individuals seeking reproductive health services, according to a readout from the White House.

“(The students) discussed the intersection of attacks on abortion access and attacks on voting rights and LGBTQI+ rights — noting the importance of building coalitions to defend rights and freedoms,” the readout states.

Harris and the students also talked about how to better support sexual violence survivors on campuses, and how to make it easier for people to receive health care free from stigma.

“(Harris) encouraged us to network with other student leaders and left us with the message that a lot of social change that happens starts with students,” she said.

Though she came out of the discussion feeling inspired, Valdez predicted that the Dobb’s decision would be just the beginning of a much larger attack on women’s rights.

“All over the world we see that there’s an attack on women, especially as we’ve seen in Iran with Mahsa Amini,” said Valdez, who referred to the recent protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman who was arrested in Tehran by religious morality police. “Now is the time to stand up because our rights are being taken away.”

Valdez, originally from San Jose, was nominated to represent Sonoma State at the White House by Susan Pulido, the university’s confidential advocate who provides support and information for students who have experienced sexual violence, dating or domestic violence, stalking or sexual harassment. Pulido had helped spread word of Valdez’s on-campus protest.

“(Valdez) felt strongly enough and passionate enough to bring that demonstration to our campus and let our voices be heard,” Pulido said. “She is doing the work and it’s so refreshing to see students taking a stand on incredibly important issues, especially as we approach midterm elections. It was truly my honor to nominate her.”

Prior to the meeting with Harris, the group of students met at the American Council of Education, a higher education advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., where they had lunch and a chance to meet other attendees.

“There were a lot of conversations and networking between student leaders to see what we can do on our campuses to help with the cause,” Valdez said.

The cost of the trip, $2,048, which included a two-night stay in the nation’s capital, as well as other travel fees like food and transportation, was paid for by the university.

Valdez said she left with a lot of networking under her belt and a deeper understanding of how important it is to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, with many congressional seats at play.

To continue her efforts on campus, Valdez said she and other students at Sonoma State are organizing a new club focused on reproductive rights.

The club will give students a space to have discussions about such rights, clarify any misinformation on the issue and provide outreach support to people seeking abortion in other states, she said.

“I understand how scary it can be to not have control over your body,” she said as she explained her passion for the topic. She believes other human rights are under attack, as well, and these issues all intersect.

“Abortion is health care,” she said. “These injustices are not OK and will continue unless we do something.”

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