Features, Impact, Science

Intersection of politics, reproduction explored in new seminar course

In a climate where reproductive freedom is a critical centerpiece of conversation, Amber Vayo, a visiting assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, is revealing the complexities of the politics of childbirth in a new seminar course.

Vayo began her second semester at Boston University in the Political Science department with a spring 2024 seminar called “Readings in American Politics: The Politics of Childbirth” — a course she said she thought would be unpopular. But the class gained rapid attention, Vayo said.

Visiting Assistant Professor Amber Vayo. Vayo is teaching a coveted seminar course on the politics of childbirth in the College of Arts and Sciences. MATTHEW EADIE/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

“I was told…expect five to eight students,” said Vayo.” It filled up the first day it was open and I had, within two days, a big waitlist. I just opened up five more seats because I want everybody to take it who could take it.”

Vayo, who received three separate masters’ degrees in jurisprudence and social thought, English and political science, said all those topics intersect when studying how politics affect those who give birth.

Reproductive issues span farther than just abortion rights, and farther even than just women’s rights, which Vayo is careful to clarify, Madison Lauricella, a senior Political Science major said.

“If you want to talk about somebody’s rights to reproductive autonomy, you have to talk about their right to have a kid. It can’t just be their right not to have one,” Vayo said.

Maternal mortality rates are increasing in The United States, according to Yale Medicine.

Of those deaths, Vayo said 60 to 80% are preventable.

“You can’t educate yourself out of structural inequalities. You can’t self-advocate out of an institutional problem,” Vayo said.

By covering the economic, social, historical and institutional factors at play surrounding childbirth, Vayo is challenging students to think about birth beyond societal expectations.

Madeleine McCarthy, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in political science, took a class with Vayo in the fall and said she immediately recognized her passion.

“When you teach with a certain verve, people are going to listen to you, and people are going to appreciate what you have to say,” said McCarthy. “Professor Vayo embodies that.”

Along with Vayo’s passion, McCarthy said she feels empowered to think authentically and apply her own ideas in order to foster change.

“She really does touch on everything, and it makes it seem like the course isn’t just mastery in one very specific area,” McCarthy said.

The course also covers topics such as in vitro fertilization, foster care and safe haven laws.

“Even if you’re not a political science major, this [topic] is something you see all around you,” Lauricella said. “While it is a great course for my major, I think it’s a great course to take as a person.”

Vayo said she is searching for a way to restore trust in institutions by challenging power structures.

“So, I come and I throw all this at my students to say, ‘Go change the institution,’” Vayo said. “You can save lives here.”

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