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The Eastern Echo Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo


EMU students present research at HEAL Sexual Health conference at Michigan State University

On Saturday, March 30, students and community members gathered on Michigan State University’s campus for the inaugural HEAL (Healthcare, Education, Advocacy, and Leadership) Sexual Health Conference.

The conference aimed to highlight leaders in three areas of research and community engagement: advocacy, education, and healthcare.

Eastern Michigan University students Aryana Jharia and Naomi Barbour attended the conference representing Mission Menstruation and Planned Parenthood Generation Action. Together, they presented a research project entitled “Enhancing Reproductive Healthcare Accessibility and Education for College Students.”

Jharia, working towards a double major in secondary education and language, literature and writing, was inspired to attend and present by one of the conference’s organizers whom she did advocacy work with in high school.

“The reason I started a Mission Menstruation chapter is actually because she reached out to me, she goes to MSU, and that’s where the original chapter is, so then I created the first chapter outside of MSU at Eastern,” Jharia said.

Mission Menstruation was founded in 2018 by three students at MSU. Part of Jharia and Barbour’s research covered ways that organizations like Mission Menstruation and Planned Parenthood Generation Action increase student accessibility to reproductive healthcare.

In the Winter 2024 semester, Jharia received a supply of emergency contraception through EC4EC and began a free text line for students on campus.

“I mostly just created a text line so people could have free access [to emergency contraception],” Jharia said.

The text line was immediately a hit. The research by Jharia and Barbour revealed that nearly 100 students accessed emergency contraception for free between January and March, a product that can typically cost up to $50.

Free access like this is important to both students, and for Barbour, a political science junior, the opportunity to attend the HEAL conference reinforced why the work they are both doing is so important.

“This was only possible because of nonprofits,” Barbour said. “Our school does not institutionalize this, there’s no funding for this for us, so we’re really relying on nonprofits right now, and so that’s where that extra emphasis came from of why we felt like it was important to have this institutionalized on campus.”

There are currently no options for EMU students to access emergency contraception for free through the University, but after the HEAL conference, Barbour and Jharia hope to see that change.

“I feel like with this research, we’ll be able to present it … and hopefully show that there’s a relevant need,” Jharia said.

The organizers of the HEAL conference aimed to give attendees this kind of hope to take away from the event. 

Nupur Huria, a pre-med student at MSU and one of the co-organizers of the conference, highlighted the ways that getting involved and starting the conference impacted her.

“For me, I think I’ve always known that I want to become a physician and I want to go into healthcare, but getting involved in sexual health advocacy and education has just further defined and shaped that passion for me,” Huria said. “It’s helped me find my purpose.”

Harsna Chahal, another co-organizer of the HEAL conference, has hopes for the future of the conference.

“I really hope this conference happens at other colleges,” Chahal said.