When I first heard about Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), the strong ties between the national office and its campus chapters struck me. LSRJ is not just resume filler. The Easy-Events-in-an-Envelope and travel stipends for students to attend conferences are just two examples of dedication to cultivating active campus chapters. The annual Leadership Institute (LI) is another. Before the conference, I felt ill equipped to handle the challenges unique to doing reproductive justice work in the South. However, I now feel prepared and excited to help bring an LSRJ chapter to a conservative state.
The conference featured workshops on how to start a new chapter, how to talk to people about reproductive justice, how to diversify membership and how to leave a legacy through cultivating new leadership and institutional memory. With nearly one hundred attendees, the campuses represented were diverse. The schedule accounted for that with events ranging from how to address “social justice burn out” to how to organize on conservative campuses.
Social justice conversations on the coasts are sometimes dismissive of conservative states especially when people refer to residents as backward or beyond hope. But from Sabrina Andrus’ opening speech on moving past an “us versus them” mentality, it was clear that this would not happen at the LI. She asked us to be mindful of ways the word “crazy” can be alienating to both people with mental illnesses and to conference attendees who have family members with so-called “crazy” beliefs. Although it can be difficult to do this work in the South, there are amazing, dedicated law students working here, and I felt the LI took into account the needs of chapters from conservative states beautifully.
Some of the most helpful discussions occurred between the formal workshops as attendees shared experiences over pizza or coffee. Through these conversations, I learned that flexibility is key to effective organizing. Decisions about leadership structure and which issues to discuss need to differ with each law school, depending on the make up of the student body. The friendships formed at the conference will continue online throughout the year and at regional LSRJ conferences. I am grateful for the opportunity the LI provided to learn, grow, and plan for the academic year with such inspiring attendees and speakers.