For the past year, the Alice Paul Center and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at Penn has sponsored programming around the theme “Beyond Free Speech and Safe Space: Reimagining Open Expression, Inclusion, and Argument.” At the core of our programming on this topic has been a commitment to the University as a space where ideas can be discussed and debated, regardless of political belief or affiliation. However, the University must also be a space of obligation to identify misinformation, particularly when that misinformation is intentional and has the potential to endanger lives.
As scholars of gender and sexuality studies, earlier this year we joined others in our field from around the country to speak out against the government-proposed changes to Title IX, changes that were just one in a series ofattacks on trans and non-binary people by the current administration. Recently, we have watched in anger and sadness as reproductive rights are dismantled in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, and other parts of the country, in what we, and other gender and sexuality experts, can only view as a direct attack on women’s lives.
We have become aware that these challenges to reproductive rights have come to Penn’s campus in the form of signs along Locust Walk which post misinformation about reproductive health, including flyers and pamphlets directing Penn students and other passers by to fake pregnancy crisis centers. As has been documented by the National Institute of Reproductive Health (2015), Bryant, et al (2014) and Rosen (2012), fake crisis centers prey on people who are making a very important choice in their lives, one with far reaching health and economic consequences (Foster, et al, 2018).
In addition, spreading false information about reproductive health contributes to harmful and ill-conceived policies that can have devastating and sometimes fatal effects on both individuals and entire communities.
Efforts to deny critical health care – whether through “conscious rules” that allow providers to refuse health care to LGBT people or the dissemination of false and dangerous information about reproductive health services – often cloak themselves in the guise of free speech and the authority of medicine. They are, in fact, part of a long history of racist, sexist, and heteronormative efforts to police bodies and legitimize the marginalization of people.
In a University setting, we can and must hold ourselves to a rigorous intellectual standard. We must speak out against misinformation, whatever its form.
Finally, we encourage those seeking factual information about pregnancy and reproductive health to utilize the following resources on campus:
Kathleen M. Brown
David Bois Professor of History
Director, Alice Paul Center and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program
Associate Director, Alice Paul Center for Research on Gender, Sexuality and Women
Associate Director, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Affiliate Faculty, Alice Paul Center and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies
Program Coordinator, GSWS/APC
LGBT Center Director, GSE Lecturer
Professor of Educational Liguistics
Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of History
Administrative Director, Organizational Dynamics
Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Nancy J. Hirschmann
Stanley I Sheerr Term Professor in the Social Sciences
Professor Emerita, Swarthmore College
Collections and Liaison Services Librarian
Postdoc, Department of Bioengineering
Faculty, Nurse-Midwifery Program
Camille Z. Charles
Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies
Linda H. Chance
Associate Professor of Japanese Studies
Jennifer Ponce de León
Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Pennsylvania
Teaching and Learning Librarian
Carol E. Tracy
Lecturer, Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies
Members of the APC/GSWS Community who wish to add their signature to this statement may click here.