Veena Muraleetharan: fighting for reproductive justice

Early in her time at Yale, Veena Muraleetharan discovered that one way to fight injustice is to wed scholarship and activism.
Veena Muraleetharan

Veena Muraleetharan

Early in her time at Yale, Veena Muraleetharan discovered that one way to fight injustice is to wed scholarship and activism.

In high school, she became interested in “reproductive justice” — the right of every individual to have autonomy over their own bodies and sexuality, to have or to not have children, and to parent those children in safe communities. As a first-year Yale student, she joined the undergraduate advocacy group Reproductive Justice Action League at Yale (RALY), which connected her with others on campus and throughout Connecticut who are tackling real-life health policy issues, ranging from abortion rights to paid family medical leave. She eventually became RALY’s co-president.

Determined to protect and expand the right to bodily autonomy, she also volunteered at Planned Parenthood in New Haven, where she encouraged clinic visitors to share their stories; was part of the “welcome crew,” which greeted patients and buffered them from anti-abortion protestors; and, as a Generation Action intern, organized on-campus advocacy events to promote family medical leave and state insurance coverage for birth doulas.

I was able to attend community listening forums, where people who work as doulas shared their experiences and thoughts about needed improvements,” said Muraleetharan. “As part of RALY, I got to work with graduate students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Law, and Public Health advocating on this and other issues. That was really exciting.”

Muraleetharan during an apple-picking trip

Muraleetharan grew up in Oklahoma, a state that does not have comprehensive sex education in its public schools, she said. As an anthropology major and one of 20 undergraduate Global Health Scholars at Yale, she complemented her activism with coursework to explore how access to abortion, birth control, maternal health care, sex education, and HIV treatment, among other reproductive freedoms, is influenced by larger social and cultural frameworks.

Reproductive justice is fundamentally about economic and racial justice,” she said. “Advocating involves understanding these multiple dimensions.”

As a health policy intern one summer at the Colorado Health Institute, Muraleetharan researched the impact of the state’s recently passed comprehensive sexual health legislation for LGBTQ students and rural communities.

At Yale Muraleetharan has also been a leader with FOOT — a pre-orientation backpacking program for first-year and transfer students — and is a member of the sketch comedy group The Good Show.

For her accomplishments, the Pierson College student was awarded The Polunin Cup, given to a graduating senior in that residential college for personal and scholastic achievement, and Yale’s David Everett Chantler (B.A. 1910) Award, given to a graduating student who “best exemplified qualities of courage, strength of character, and high moral purpose.”

As she awaits word on fellowships to continue her work toward reproductive justice, Muraleetharan said she takes from Yale the gift of “the ability to listen deeply to and care about other people” — a gift learned, she said, from “the incredible people who have shown me the same through their friendship.”

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