As students and faculty start lifting their heads from the end of semester rush and head off to Summer adventures, we have a chance to reflect on all we have accomplished this past year and to celebrate our graduating students. I had the opportunity to think more about this as I prepared my remarks for DGHI’s undergraduate commencement on May 10. The opportunity to speak to graduates and their families was one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had since joining the Duke faculty in 2016. Asked to talk about my journey from Duke student to a career in medicine and global health, I told the students that they need to expect the unexpected, be prepared for— and maybe even proud of— the inevitable failures, and to take chances on new adventures and challenges.

As we embark on new and exciting projects with learners across the university and medical school this summer, I am encouraged to see a new generation of researchers and practitioners becoming advocates and allies for women across the globe. The Center will be hosting five students and an ob/gyn resident in Kisumu, Kenya for research projects this summer. We’ve spent the 6 to 9 months preparing for their experiences—getting protocols in place, submitting IRB requests, and working on project timelines. The students will be working on a range of projects, including mHealth, behavioral research around the intersection of stigma, cervical cancer and HIV, and facility readiness to deliver reproductive health care. They all have different levels of experience with research and familiarity with lower-resource settings, so are coming in with different expectations and will likely come away with five completely different impressions and experiences. We’ve told them to expect the unexpected and be prepared to the inevitable challenges and surprising successes. I look forward to sharing some of their impressions about their work and their overall experiences this summer through blogs and photos on our website.

As we send students off to make their mark in the world in various ways, I think it’s important to reflect on the current climate around reproductive health in our own country. The encroachment on sexual and reproductive rights and bodily autonomy through legislation, court rulings and funding decisions has continued at breakneck speed in the past few months. While the daily barrage of bad news can seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that these actions have catalyzed powerful reactions and has spurred countless citizens to ask what they can do to make difference. That is the silver lining.  And if you are looking to get involved and make your voice heard, here are some thoughts and resources.

Reproductive and civil rights organizations have been visible and vocal in the past few months—research and find a meeting, protest or volunteer opportunity. Educate yourselves on laws and lawmakers in your state—then call them, because your voice actually matters. Decide whether they need to stay or go, and then vote. Donate to or join a local organization. Most importantly, talk to your friends and family about what these issues mean. Remind them that reproductive rights and reproductive justice are not social or cultural issues, they are central issues that are key to the health and well-being of people in America and around the globe.

We know there are big challenges ahead of us in this fight. We should expect the unexpected and be prepared for the inevitable setbacks. But we should also celebrate the successes, even if they are small, and take comfort in knowing that the young people in our country are smart and compassionate and well prepared for this adventure ahead.

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