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MSU to host its first sexual health conference

Michigan State University will host its first sexual health conference on March 30 at the MSU Union. The conference was created and organized by two MSU students aiming to create a comfortable space for education and discussion surrounding the topic of sexual health.  

Human biology and psychology junior Nupur Huria and public health graduate student Harsna Chahal have been involved in sexual health and reproductive health advocacy for their entire college experience. Although they found that the space was filled with research, they felt that there was little space for collaboration.

“We really wanted to create a space for people to feel comfortable talking about their work, getting involved in work, empowering others to know that they can make a difference, and really opening up that dialogue surrounding sexual health,” Huria said.

Starting about a year ago, Huria and Chahal began working on the conference to fulfill their vision. With support from several student and faculty volunteers, as well as $27,000 in donations and sponsorships, they have put together the one-day HEAL Conference dedicated to sexual health.

The conference will feature two segments, one focused on research presentations and the other will include expert panels and audience-based discussions, Huria said. International relations, economics and French senior Maren Nicolaysen is one of six speakers and research coordinators who have worked to build a diverse group of experts and student researchers.

Nicolaysen said that she relied on her own network in the sexual health sphere to find presenters.

“A lot of us have ties to community organizations and larger organizations across Michigan,” Nicolaysen said. “Myself and other committee members, we’d go and talk to faculty members who we knew were working on this sort of thing. Also, peers, students who are doing research or who just have advocacy experience in all these different areas.”

The conference’s keynote speaker is Planned Parenthood of Michigan chief medical officer Sarah Wallet. Governor Gretchen Whitmer will also give a virtual speech at the event.

For Chahal, the conference is an opportunity to increase the public discussion of sexual health, as she often felt like it was a private topic growing up, she said.

“This whole conference really helps make the topic of sexual health something more inclusive to talk about,” Chahal said. “To give us space for individuals who have been passionately trying to drive their work in sexual health, to be able to showcase to the world you can work hard to inspire individuals that, you can go into this field, you can do research, you can even be an advocate.”

Huria said that her own introduction to sexual health advocacy encouraged her to use her voice and has given her purpose in life. She said she hopes the conference will do the same for others.

“A lot of this has really just been building on that passion itself and wanting to bring all these people together, encouraging other people to use their voice and give them the opportunity to get involved in things that they’re passionate about,” Huria said. “Because I know for me, that was really meaningful. If this conference can help even one attendee learn a little bit more about something that they want to pursue in the future or they want to advocate for, I’d say that we kind of fulfilled what we wanted to do.”

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