For Jessica Valdez, being active in national movements that support sexual assault survivors, a woman’s right to choose and reproductive health for all gender identities is more than a choice. It’s a commitment. So, when the senior undergraduate was nominated to represent Sonoma State University at a White House roundtable discussion with Vice President Kamala Harris and discuss the impact of the Dobbs decision to take away constitutional right of abortion, Jessica did not hesitate to answer that call.
Held in Washington, D.C. last week, the closed-door roundtable meeting with Vice President Harris included about 100 college students from across the country. Jessica, a Chicano & Latino Studies major and History minor, returned to the SSU campus rejuvenated and inspired to share her experience.
First off, what brought you to Sonoma State?
I grew up in San Jose. Being a first-generation student, I had no idea what I was looking for in college. When I was touring all the different campuses, I picked Sonoma State because it’s relatively close to my family. It’s a place where my parents felt safe to send me – and a good fit for me to establish my independence. Also, I just found the campus to be very pretty.
I was invited to join the PUERTA program back in 2019. Right there, I knew, great, I have a community I can reach out to for support right here on campus. That was a really nice feeling because it can be a little scary to move away from your main support system.
What was the event like? And had you visited the White House before?
I did go to Washington, D.C. in the 8th grade, but this was the first time I was able to go inside the White House. It was definitely a great opportunity and so cool to experience the historical atmosphere surrounded by portraits of past presidents and old-timey flags. It was very moving.
What were the objectives that you hoped to accomplish?
We met with the American Council on Education, who hosted us in the morning. A Planned Parenthood representative encouraged us all to really think about the personal stories that led us to become advocates for reproduction and abortion rights. Our overall goal was to use the opportunity of meeting as a group to reinforce and create networks so that when we go back to our respective campuses we can continue to advocate for these things and join together for united strategies.
Did you come away with new ideas or strategies?
Some of my takeaways from the event at the White House and from hearing Vice President Kamala Harris is to make sure people – especially students – are registered to vote. I’m also interested in looking into starting a Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter here at Sonoma State. I feel that will be an effective way for SSU to get more connected with other college campus communities.
There was one point where Vice President Harris was asking our group of student leaders what we felt was the most effective way for us to communicate with our generation. Of course, we emphasized use of social media – but we also felt that it’s important to not take for granted that people know about the issue of abortion rights. So, things like tabling with flyers or stickers to spread updates of information on the issue are really important. And organizing marches to raise awareness and visibility – all of those efforts combined make an impact to ensure our presence is felt on campus.
Any shout-outs to particular schools that this gathering allowed you to connect with?
Definitely. I got to meet and be part of a group of youth advocates and student leaders from all over the country, including people from Northeastern University in Boston, University of Pennsylvania and University of Tennessee. It was great to connect with such a diverse group of people dedicated to intersecting issues like LBGTQ rights.
What was the most inspiring part of your experience?
When VP Harris said this event was organized to make sure we feel empowered to connect and keep moving forward together. She also reminded us that the greatest movements are often student-led. I recall a professor, Ronald Lopez, saying the same thing to me before. And I think a lot of us forget about that. Just hearing that again was a great and inspiring reminder of how we as students have lot of collective political power to make an impact. And we really can’t take that for granted.
Why is this subject important for you?
It’s very terrifying when someone doesn’t have control over their own body. And taking abortion rights away means people are no longer in control of their own bodies. Simple as that. Abortion is a survival tool. And a lot of birthing people around the country suddenly don’t have access to that basic right anymore. They are going to suffer and we need to do something about that. The message being sent by the Supreme Court taking away abortion rights is that this is not the end. This is the beginning. And we need to organize and take action to take control of our basic rights.
You’re a member of the Alpha Omicron Pi. Can you tell us about that group's mission?
Our philanthropy is supporting children with arthritis. While arthritis is a common disease, quite a lot of people aren’t aware that it affects children, too.
What plans do you have after you graduate?
I want to continue in higher education and work at a college. I’m really interested in diversity, equity and inclusion programs like PUERTA and Disability Services for Students to better support marginalized communities. After college I want to focus my energy and work to ensure higher education is accessible to more people.