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Briggsies Nupur Huria and Harsna Chahal co-found MSU’s first ever sexual health conference

June 25, 2024 - Tiffany Werner

Nupur Huria headshot. Nupur is wearing a black jacket, white shirt, and has long black hairBriggs alums Nupur Huria, Class of 2024 and Harsna Chahal, Class of 2024, combined efforts to co-found the MSU HEAL Sexual Health Conference due to their similar passion for using their scientific education to address social issues like women’s health. The conference featured speakers like Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Sarah Wallett, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Michigan. Huria and Chahal saw the need for an event like this, coupling their lived experiences as women from Indian cultures and their global health perspectives. 

“We have witnessed firsthand the impact of underrepresentation in sexual health research, pervasive stigma, and gaps in education on individuals’ ability to access quality care and advocate for themselves effectively,” say Huria and Chahal. “As youth advocates, we have been privileged to witness the power Harsna Chahal has a light colored jacket, white shirt, and long black hairof collective action in creating tangible change. Our journeys have reinforced the belief that by combining scientific knowledge with a deep understanding of social issues, we can create meaningful and lasting change in healthcare systems and other communities.”

Through their MSU undergraduate majors in pre-medical fields, and Chahal’s further master of public health degree, the two scholars found their experiences with various patients across diverse backgrounds to further motivate their need for change. Sexual health is clearly much more complex than just health, but is also rooted in social issues, cultural stigmas, and intersecting identities. Interacting with other MSU students, faculty, and administrators inspired them to advocate for change.

Huria and Chahal met in the summer of 2021 during a Zoom meeting with other student leaders to advocate to the MSU administration to better support menstruators and provide free menstrual products in all public restrooms on campus. They connected over a shared passion for menstrual equity, eventually realizing just how compatible they were in making change for equitable health and resources. 

“The inspiration behind founding the inaugural HEAL Sexual Health Conference stemmed from recognizing the urgent need for a unified and inclusive platform dedicated to celebrating the advancements within sexual health and addressing the multifaceted challenges within the field as well, “ says Huria. “Fueled by a desire to catalyze change and empower individuals, we envisioned a space where experts, advocates, students, and community members could come together to share insights, exchange ideas, and collaborate on solutions. We aimed to elevate and open conversations, foster interdisciplinary connections, and drive tangible action to better sexual health in the State of Michigan.”

In order to make such an event happen, the team of two expanded their advocacy team by bringing together those who shared their same passion for sexual health equity on campus. They were able to build an inclusive team of students, faculty, and community members by encouraging participation from everyone involved and fostering empowerment towards creating the conference.

The co-founders hope that the conference both inspired attendees as well as equipped them with knowledge to continue influencing positive change within their own communities. “The conference provided a safe and inclusive space to share experiences, challenges, and insights, fostering empathy and understanding across diverse perspectives,” says Huria. “We wanted to leave attendees with the skills and confidence to initiate and sustain meaningful conversations about sexual health in their communities, driving positive change and promoting equitable sexual health for all.”

HEAL Conference welcome signAt the conference, Huria and Chahal witnessed the societal stigma around sexual health conversations being dismantled, minds being opened, people connecting with one another, and the transformative power of education, empathy, and advocacy. They noticed as they looked out into the crowd of over 200 people that many of those attending the event were pivotal influencers in their own personal journeys in fighting for sexual health equity. As those influencers were able to provide guidance, wisdom and support for them, they hoped that the conference allowed the same for those beginning their own journeys in the fight for sexual health equity. 

“The MSU community has always been supportive of the strides we have taken to get to this point, but we both look to the future hoping that MSU can inspire others to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and encourage crucial dialogue.” says Chahal. “As we both prepare ourselves for our journeys outside of MSU, we’re confident that we have created a legacy here and that other students will continue to build on that. We know that there is still much work to be done, but we're more committed than ever to continuing the fight for a world where sexual health is not only prioritized but celebrated.”

Nupur and Harsna discuss something with a conference participant in the MSU UnionNupur Huria and Harsna Chahal talk to a reporter while standing next to the HEAL conference sign

HEAL conference organizers (MSU students) seated together   Centerpiece. Figurine surrounded by flowers, with flowers placed on their lower abdomen, signifying sexual health