Mecklenburg County colleges, universities respond to SCOTUS decision on Roe v. Wade
Five colleges and universities with a major presence in Mecklenburg County expect no changes in their health care and student services after the Supreme Court’s decision to remove constitutional protections for abortion.
Davidson College, Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales University, Queens University of Charlotte and UNC Charlotte are all evaluating the impact of the June 24 decision on enrollment, residential student programs, political activism, voting, graduation rates and other issues.
“Ultimately, we’re stepping into a new space where a population of students have had a fundamental right taken away,” said Bayliss Fiddiman, director of educational equity and senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. “Some institutions of higher education may be struggling with how to respond at this moment… I hope that going down the line, they understand the importance of protecting the student population.”
A June 28 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education examined how the Supreme Court decision could affect college and university enrollment. The article cites research indicating the decision will negatively affect students’ ability to attend and finish college. Some college counselors, students, university officials and enrollment experts speculate that students may choose to enroll in universities located in abortion-rights states. Others cite research suggesting that regardless of the decision, most students will continue to attend universities within 100 miles of their homes.
No changes in health care services
All five of the Mecklenburg County colleges and universities said access to reproductive health care remains unchanged in North Carolina and said campus health service departments would continue to ensure access.
“There will not be any changes,” said Dr. Marion Jones, director of student health services at Johnson C. Smith. “Things will be the same. We treat our students according to their needs.” She added that students are provided with options and resources to support their personal decisions.
There are no operational changes at UNC Charlotte, said Buffie Stephens, director of issues management and media relations. Pregnancy testing at the student health center is available and a list of resources is provided to students who test positive for pregnancy, she said. Counseling and psychological services are also provided.
Expect more political activity in the fall semester
A June 29 Queens statement signed by President Dan Lugo and six vice presidents described the university’s commitment to health care access and encouraged the campus community to engage in civil and political action. At Davidson, media relations director Jay Pfeifer said the college’s students are among the country’s most engaged voters.
“Almost 90% of students voted in the 2020 election,” Pfeifer said. “We expect to see the same level of enthusiasm in the 2022 election.”
Differences in university responses
The UNC System has not issued a statement on the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Among Mecklenburg County schools, only Queens issued a statement. At Davidson, Pfeifer wrote in an email that “the college does not normally comment on the court’s decisions unless they have a direct impact on students, and the law regarding abortion in North Carolina has not changed.”
At Johnson & Wales, Amber Perrell Slack, dean of students, wrote that North Carolina laws continue to support abortion access, and campus offices will work with students who have concerns or need support.
National college and university responses
Women make up 60% of students in U.S. universities and colleges. Statistics from CollegeFactual.com indicate Davidson is 52% women, Johnson C. Smith is 63%, Johnson & Wales is 61%, Queens is 66%, and UNC Charlotte is 47%.
Nationally, at least 13 colleges and universities have issued statements in response to the June 24 decision, led primarily by women’s institutions. They include Agnes Scott College, Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Cedar Crest College, Meredith College, Mount Holyoke College, Queens University of Charlotte, Simmons University, Smith College, Sweet Briar College, Trinity Washington University, Vassar College and Wellesley College.
Professors speak out
While most universities have not issued statements, North Carolina professors have spoken and written extensively about the issue.
At Davidson, Susan Roberts, professor of political science, said in an article on the college’s website that about 18% of abortions performed in North Carolina are for individuals from outside the state. In a television interview, Roberts said that as more states make abortion illegal, demand may make them more challenging to obtain in North Carolina.
Mimi Chapman, chair of the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, asked her colleagues about their responsibility as a community of scholars and practitioners.
“The real-world implications are so severe that we cannot hide behind worries about being ‘biased, uncivil or too political,’ she wrote. “We need to use our science, our moral, political and legal analyses and our empathy to help our state make the best decisions for our citizens. As the University of the People to do so is our job and our honor.
“As I’m sure you know, I do not and cannot speak for the University on these matters. So, I speak for myself and hope that provides you with a measure of courage and comfort in these difficult and uncertain days.”
Sam Carnes and Palmer Magri are students in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news. Their summer work is supported by the James E. Rogers Research Program.