Earlier this month, sophomore Melanie Alfonzo founded Advocates for Reproductive and Sexual Health (ARSH). ARSH aims to foster greater reproductive advocacy and sexual health education at Hopkins and in Baltimore.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Alfonzo cited her work with Planned Parenthood as the inspiration for launching the group. Planned Parenthood is a reproductive health-care provider that often plays a controversial role in the national political debate.
ARSH is recognized as a Generation Action Group, a youth activist wing of Planned Parenthood, and it will be working closely with the local chapter of the organization, according to Alfonzo. She added that there were no other student groups at Hopkins that work on all aspects of reproductive health.
“Our club wants to encompass everything from sexual assault to healthy sex practices, the emotional aspects of sex, STDs, to fighting politically for our right for menstrual [products]. All of these in one,” she said. “The closest thing [to ARSH] is Wings, but they specifically focus on menstrual health, which is just a tiny subsection.”
Alfonzo stated that the group will not only work to ensure better reproductive and sexual health education on campus but will also reach out to the Baltimore community. She noted that the group plans to canvass low-income neighborhoods and connect residents to the local Planned Parenthood chapter.
Moreover, she also discussed her decision against naming ARSH after Planned Parenthood.
“I didn’t want the Planned Parenthood connotation to scare anyone away from joining. We don’t want to be politically affiliated on any stance. We just have the goal to fight for reproductive freedom, people’s rights to their body and proper sexual health education,” Alfonso said. “But, we would partner with Planned Parenthood on various events.”
The President of JHU Voice for Life, junior Elizabeth Brunke-Turner, said in an interview with The News-Letter that while she supports groups that work to promote reproductive health, she voiced concerns about ARSH’s affiliations with Planned Parenthood.
“We believe Planned Parenthood is not for women and there are better clinics out there for women,” she said. “As far as issues regarding abortion are concerned, we would want to put our group out there more to make sure that there is information from both sides presented on campus.”
Senior Class Senator Chanel Lee, who spearheaded the formation of the Student Government Association’s (SGA’s) Women and Gender Minorities Caucus (WGMC), said that they understand why ARSH decided to leave out the Planned Parenthood name. They expressed regret that issues surrounding women’s health are so politicized in politics and noted the need to respond to the current climate through political action.
“When people hear Planned Parenthood, they think abortion, and that is controversial to a lot of folks,” they said. “Planned Parenthood is a lot more than abortion care. They provide a broad range of services related to sexual and reproductive health. But people really latch on to the abortion care aspect.”
Lee is one of the founders of Wings, a student group focusing on menstrual health formed in 2018. The group has since advocated for and launched the Menstrual Products Initiative this spring and worked with the WGMC.
Lee voiced their excitement for the creation of ARSH.
“The fact that there is a new group is going to focus solely on sexual and reproductive health is positive and affirming for students on campus,” they said. “Having a group like that will enact a lot of positive change on campus.”
Sophomore Mariama Morray, the secretary of ARSH and a member of Wings, echoed Lee’s sentiments, highlighting an important role the new group could have at Hopkins.
“Everybody has their own experience when it comes to sex ed, especially depending on whether you have immigrant parents who didn’t want to talk about it or are part of the LGBTQ community and felt excluded,” Morray said. “In experiencing that, we really did need a club that is dedicated to sexual education.”
In an email to The News-Letter, Deeya Bhattacharya, the co-president of the Sexual Assault Resource Unit, noted that she learned during this spring’s virtual Sex Week event series that many students at Hopkins were oblivious to important issues surrounding consent and healthy sexual behaviors. She voiced support for having another student group working with such issues.
“I hope this new student group can help educate all types of students about reproductive health, putting an emphasis on intersectional issues as well,” Bhattacharya wrote. “Moreover, I hope that consent is a pillar in their advocacy for improving education for sexual health.”
ARSH is listed under the Center for Health Education and Wellness. Alfonzo said that she was previously unable to register the group under SGA, citing the moratorium on new student groups this fall. ARSH is currently deciding whether to apply to be housed under SGA, who opened its applications for new student groups in February.
Opinion Editor Laura Wadsten is involved with ARSH. She did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.