“As a nurse and educator, I have supported those who have survived sexual violence. I know how these events have lasting effects on those who experience them. It’s important to me to be a part of this work because these types of acts disrupt lives and create a stain on our society. Anything I can do to reduce the pain and suffering of another individual is worth doing.”

Woman smiling

Like many CFA members, Dr. Vanessa Lopez-Littleton strives to serve not only her students and colleagues, but her wider community as well.

The CSU Monterey Bay associate professor’s teaching and research cover health inequities, the social determinants of health, and social equity, including the racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality.

Black pregnant people die at more than twice the rate of the national average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 55 Black pregnant women died for every 100,000 live births in 2020. The national average is 23.8. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the failures of America’s public health system, especially for women of color.

“Similar to many communities across the country, Monterey County also struggles to improve Black maternal health outcomes,” said Lopez-Littleton during this week’s Black Maternal Health Week.

Through her work on infant and maternal mortality, Lopez-Littleton was asked to serve as on the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center (MCRCC) board of directors to advance the center’s mission of preventing sexual violence and offering healing to survivors.

“She’s such a fierce ally and advocate and she works so hard and she has been, truly, a courageous leader on some of the most challenging issues facing our university and our community,”

– Meghan O’Donnell

“The MCRCC has a distinct role to play in partnering and advocating with community partners and government agencies to address the health concerns of Black women in our community. MCRCC is a strong community partner. We partner with the YMCA, Bright Beginnings, and other community-based organizations to ensure Black pregnant women have access to available resources,” said Lopez-Littleton, also chair of CSU Monterey Bay’s Health, Human Services, and Public Policy Department.

“It’s impossible to capture how remarkable and special Vanessa is, in just a few sentences. She’s such a fierce ally and advocate and she works so hard and she has been, truly, a courageous leader on some of the most challenging issues facing our university and our community,” said Meghan O’Donnell, CFA associate vice president for lecturers, north, and CSU Monterey Bay lecturer. “Whether it’s supporting our military veteran population, advocating for and empowering women through her work with the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center, building coalitions and community partnerships, leading the call for real change on our campus to address anti-Black racism, and her instrumental role in supporting CSUMB’s new Helen Rucker Center for Black Excellence.

“I’ve never known anyone who was more willing, when faced with a problem, to just roll up their sleeves and get the work done. The kind of work that produces real, meaningful change. And she does it every single day while also being a joyful and committed friend and union sister. I feel blessed that she’s part of my CFA family.”

Lopez-Littleton has taught at CSU Monterey Bay for seven years and loves educating, supporting, and serving students from diverse backgrounds. Past president of CFA Monterey Bay, Lopez-Littleton’s participation in her union increased after attending CFA’s Equity Conference.

“I believe sexual violence is a pressing social concern. This work is directly aligned with CFA’s racial and social justice work, which, at its heart, is supporting one another and working towards a more just and equitable society. This is particularly true for those who experience sexual violence. We care for and honor one another,” Lopez-Littleton said.

“Sexual violence is often about power and control. This is particularly true for some of our transgender folks. They deserve to be acknowledged and supported. They deserve to know that they don’t deserve to be mistreated or assaulted because of any aspect of their identity,” she added, noting the intersectionality of her and the crisis center’s efforts.

How can CFA members help?

“It’s important for each of us to recognize that violence is not acceptable. The mentality that suggests ‘love makes you do crazy things’ needs to be overturned. Love does not make you assault or abuse anyone,” Lopez-Littleton said. “It’s important for people to support organizations such as the MCRCC with donations and their time (as volunteers). Most organizations have fundraising events and other activities where the public can get involved.”

Find out more about Black Maternal Health Week and the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center.

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