Reed senior Peri Long ’23 (right of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris) after a meeting with the VP in the White House.
Reed senior Peri Long ’23 (right of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris) after a meeting with the VP in the White House.

Reed at the White House

President Bilger and Peri Joy Long '23 traveled to Washington to share the implications of a post-Roe society for college campuses.

Randall Barton | December 6, 2022

In August, President Audrey Bilger traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S.Vice President Kamala Harris and seven other college presidents to discuss how colleges are responding to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. That decision held that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion, resulting in states now having full power to regulate any aspect of abortion not preempted by federal law.

“As the first woman president of Reed College, I was pleased to be able to meet with the first woman vice president of this country, and the first vice president of color in this country,” Bilger said. “There’s something important about firsts.”

At the White House meeting, Bilger read a statement that said, in part, “The decision has put the college on high alert, leaving an unwieldy patchwork of laws and restrictions that vary from state to state. In Oregon, there may be relative safety, but college students are vulnerable to having their rights undermined simply by leaving this state to return to their hometowns, to engage in internships, or conduct research elsewhere in the United States.

“We are also acutely aware of the threat of future decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that could further erode the right to privacy by potentially restricting access to contraception, or invalidating marriages between same-sex couples, or criminalizing homosexuality, or permitting the persecution of transgender and gender-nonbinary people.”

At the time of the meeting, most colleges hadn’t begun their semesters, and the vice president suggested it would be beneficial to talk to student leaders. In mid-October, she hosted 75 student leaders from 33 states and specifically asked that a student from Reed be included.

Reed sent Peri Joy Long ’23, a senior from Annapolis, Maryland, majoring in religion and planning to go on to law school. For the past two years, she has worked on campus as a certified confidential advocate with legal privilege for survivors of sexual assault through SHARE (Sexual Health, Advocacy and Relationship Education). She has also worked on public policy in Oregon, landing a Summer Internship Award though the Center for Life Beyond Reed, which enabled her to conduct research and help draft Oregon state bills to support victims of sexual violence with the  Every Voice Coalition. Students who would speak at the White House were preselected by a nonprofit organization that helped organize the meet-up with Harris. Peri was not one of them, but she came prepared anyway. When the group session broke to pose for pictures, Peri ended up next to the vice president. As the photo session concluded, Harris turned to Peri and said “Thank you for coming.”

Introducing herself, Peri said, “With my work, my primary concern is the intersection of Dobbs and the sexual violence epidemic. The fact that we’re seeing this sexual violence epidemic on campuses grow rapidly, and that the right to abortion is a now a geographic privilege, is a major concern that could further bind women and nonbinary people from access, education, or continuing education, not to mention the mental or psychological effects.”

She shared statistics that show one in four women are likely to experience sexual assault, a number that is even higher for students who are nonbinary, LGBTQ, or other historically marginalized identities.

“Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention,” Harris replied. “Those are some angles we hadn’t really thought about and will definitely take into consideration.”

The students then met with the vice president’s staff members to discuss how the White House might better reach students in combating misinformation about abortion and ways to get students to vote. “They called on us to go back to campuses and inspire students to vote,” Peri said. “Historically things have happened quickly when students have gotten involved with something.”