Student-Run Clubs Promote Sexual and Reproductive Health by Providing Free Resources to Penn State | University Park Campus News
Through frequent presentations and public events, many student-run organizations at Penn State are focused on improving access to healthcare resources for students – one of them being Planned. Parenthood Generation Action at PSU.
The club strives to improve “knowledge about reproductive issues” and “increase access to reproductive health resources on campus,” according to Geneva Flarend, the organization’s external vice president.
Flarend (junior-biochemistry and molecular biology) said the club’s frequent condom distributions are “probably [its] most popular event” and a “really fantastic” way to connect directly with the student body.
“We’re going to dress in all of our Planned Parenthood merchandise,” Flarend said. “We usually stand next to the Willard Preacher at the Willard Building, and we have signs, and we play music, and we hand out condoms.”
Flarend said the resources the club distributes usually depend on what it receives from the larger Planned Parenthood office, but often includes male condoms, lubricant packets, female condoms, brochures and Planned Parenthood products like water bottles, stickers, wristbands and koozies.
Maddie Lapetina, president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at PSU, said condom handouts are characterized by club members as “just trying to be welcoming and accepting of everyone”.
“We don’t want it to be an embarrassing thing for people to take a condom from us because that kind of stuff can usually be pretty taboo,” said Lapetina (junior political science). “We’re trying to break that stereotype by making it a fun and welcoming environment.”
During the condom distribution, Flarend said club members are “preparing for all sorts of responses” – and have received all sorts of them.
“If we’re there on a day when there’s a tour, then some of the high school parents are a little freaked out, but the high school kids — they love it,” Flarend said. “They’re excited, they see how excited we are, and they get a sense of the opportunities for camaraderie and support that exist here at Penn State.”
Flarend said the organization usually runs out of condoms after a few hours because students, faculty members and visitors are “really excited” to pick them up.
“It’s so exciting because you see genuine joy in people’s eyes,” Flarend said. “Maybe be surprised or relieved that there are people their age jumping around yelling about condoms – so openly.”
Another organization that provides free resources to college students is Days for Girls at Penn State, a Days for Girls International nonprofit that “advances menstrual equity, health, dignity, and opportunity for all.” according to its website.
Purva Gupta, a member of the club’s advocacy leadership team, said one aspect of reproductive health the organization is focusing on is sustainable menstruation.
“As a member of the Advocacy Team, a lot of our efforts are geared towards advocating for issues like menstrual poverty and menstrual equity,” said Gupta (first-year biomedical engineering student). “I feel like a big part of our job is to start a conversation about menstruation, especially since there’s so much societal stigma around it, and…we’ve drifted apart of the subject itself.
Similar to Planned Parenthood Generation Action, Days for Girls frequently distributes free products in crowded locations on campus.
“We do monthly presentations at the HUB-Robeson Center just to raise awareness about sustainable menstruation options like menstrual cups, and at least start a conversation about menstruation,” Gupta said.
For Gupta, the responses during distributions vary a bit more – many people “avoid” having a conversation with the club.
“I’ve been at the table a lot and…you make eye contact and you smile and you’re like, ‘Hey, do you want a free menstrual cup?’ and many people avoid eye contact,” Gupta said. “There are also a lot of people who wanted to know more about, at least, the menstrual cups we distribute and how to use them.”
In addition to distributing free products, the two organizations have other initiatives to increase information and access on campus.
Lapetina said Planned Parenthood Generation Action aims to “serve as a resource for students on reproductive health and safe sex,” and has released an online course on safe sex.
“It’s a little known, but sex education isn’t exactly great, especially in public education,” Lapetina said. “It’s important for students — when they come to Penn State, and they’re around a lot of other very sexually charged students — that they understand how to take care of themselves.”
Another recent initiative launched by Planned Parenthood Generation Action is its Reproductive Crisis Support Network, which Flarend says was launched last semester.
“Essentially, one of our club members with a car is paired up with another student who trained as a counselor,” Flarend said. “If someone fills out an anonymous Google Docs form that we have, we can take them to the nearest Planned Parenthood so they can access any care that’s not offered here, and we provide that service for free. “
According to Gupta, Days for Girls currently has a program called “Flow2Go”, where the club has “stocked each of the university colleges with free products” and regularly maintains and restocks them.
“I think in the ideal Penn State community, I hope there will be free access to products in every building,” Gupta said. “In our office…we have free access to almost every project imaginable, including multiple sizes of pads, tampons…menstrual cups, as well as reusable underwear and pads.”
Gupta also said an ideal Penn State would expand access to men’s restrooms.
“We have this one that says ‘not all women who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate’, so it’s really important to understand that menstruation isn’t just a problem feminine as we may have thought in the past,” Gupta said. “Having access for everyone is also very important.”
For Flarend, an ideal Penn State also seems similar in terms of widespread access for students.
“At the end of the day, Penn State is pretty well organized in terms of major resources,” Flarend said. “That being said, there are limited options for daily needs like condoms and menstrual products, and there is certainly something missing in terms of larger resources like access to abortion, some forms of STI testing , some forms of transgender care that we’ll hopefully…enable people to access.
According to Flarend, all of these efforts are part of Planned Parenthood Generation Action’s “major mission to increase access through better health care.”
“We’re always open to new members, so even if you’re the least bit curious about any kind of women’s health issues, men’s health issues, reproductive health issues, stop by,” Flarend said. . “We are, I like to think, a very open and accepting group of people, and we would love anyone to join our group.”
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