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Fort Lewis College student meets with Vice President Kamala Harris about abortion

Students from 33 states offer input on how Dobbs decision has impacted campuses
Raina Schmidt, vice president of the Associated Students of Fort Lewis College, sits in the front row (fourth from left) as Vice President Kamala Harris talks about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and the impact it has had on campuses across the country. (Official White House photo)

Fort Lewis College student Raina Schmidt recalls having conversations with her father while growing up about the U.S. Capitol. But flying into Washington, D.C., and seeing the White House, Pentagon and monuments for the first time from high above, and then stepping onto the airport tarmac, was “mind-boggling,” she said.

But the October trip was just getting started.

Schmidt, student body vice president at Fort Lewis College, was in town to meet Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House. She, along with other student leaders from across the country, were invited to share their opinions about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and affects it was having on college campuses.

Seventy-five students from colleges in 33 states attended the meeting. Schmidt, who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe located in South Dakota, brought a unique perspective to the discussion on reproductive rights.

“We serve a great deal of Indigenous students here on campus,” Schmidt said. “And that’s actually one of the things that drew me to Fort Lewis, is just the amount of diversity we have on campus. And when I went to the White House, it’s not to say that there weren’t other students that had students of color on their campuses, but it was just that mine is over half.

“And that is just super unique,” she said. “So getting to talk with other students about that made me really proud to serve the students I do.”

The majority of student leaders in attendance came from Ivy League and medical schools.

The security getting into the White House briefing room to meet the vice president was tighter than bark on a tree – “as one would imagine,” Schmidt said. “We couldn’t have anything with us, no phones, nothing. Just like a piece of paper and a pencil.”

Harris spoke to the students for about 35 minutes, impressing upon them that seats are opening in the Senate and how important it is to get out the vote as they look to codify Roe v. Wade, before opening up to 10 minutes of questions.

Harris displayed a color-coded map with 15 colors, each indicating different abortion parameters now in place in the U.S., then asked the students if they could make heads or tails of it? The answer was a collective no, Schmidt said, that it was too confusing.

“And she was just like, ‘This is what abortion access looks like in the U.S. right now,’” Schmidt said. “And so when I came back I was like – we have students from all over. I’m from Minnesota, we have students from New York and California and all of a sudden they come here and it’s like, if ever they would need or choose to need that resource, how is it different than what is in their home state? And how do they know what is available?”

Fort Lewis College student Raina Schmidt stands in U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ office. Visiting Washington, D.C., was “surreal,” Schmidt said. (Courtesy of the office of Vice President Kamala Harris)

It wasn’t until after the vice president spoke, followed by a bit of mingling, handshaking and photos, that students met with her staff for a more personalized experience where students could voice their opinions on how the Dobbs decision affected their schools.

“I got maybe 90 seconds to speak and just talked about the college I was representing and how the Dobbs decision impacted our students with cultural considerations,” said Schmidt, who never got a chance to speak with Harris beyond saying thank you when she shook her hand.

Schmidt was quoted in an FLC news publication saying students need more transparency on how they can access abortions as well as the providers who are “culturally competent” in addressing the issue in respects to cultural beliefs.

The cultural competency component was something Schmidt researched by talking to her fellow students before leaving for Washington, D.C.

“I talked with some of my friends that are Navajo that I’ve made here and asked them if they knew about abortion?” Schmidt said. “And some said ‘no,’ others said they had never talked about it but knew what it meant, while others said they could never do that because it was against their cultural beliefs.

“And so, with an intense amount of Indigenous students, how do we even know what their beliefs are and if they are even able to reach out to say ‘I’m in this sticky situation, could I if I wanted to, get some support on this?’” Schmidt said.

Schmidt followed up by reaching out to the FLC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coordinator to discuss what the different cultural beliefs on campus look like and how they can be addressed in regards to reproductive rights and abortion.

“How are we going to provide medical treatment to people that are seeking that while also taking into consideration what they believe?” Schmidt said. “It just adds a whole other layer on top of whether someone is pro-life or pro-choice and how do we navigate that?”

Access to abortion remains legal in Colorado.


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