When one mentions Planned Parenthood, many tend to think only about the controversy of their abortion services. However, student activists at Montclair State University are looking to change the narrative.
In the fall of 2021, students and faculty collaborated to create the Planned Parenthood Generation Action (PPGA) chapter of Montclair State.
PPGA is a national organization that provides students the tools to advocate for reproductive freedom in their campus community. With resources given by a Planned Parenthood liaison, student leaders host on-campus events that provide information on local clinics, sexual health, reproductive rights and the multitude of services Planned Parenthood provides, such as cancer screenings and hormone therapy for transgender patients.
Although the Montclair State chapter is still in the process of being recognized as an official campus organization by the Student Government Association (SGA), its members are ready to hit the ground running.
Jamie Martinez, a freshman child advocacy and policy major, is one of the co-presidents of the chapter. Since taking on the role, Martinez has greatly expanded their social network and learned more about Planned Parenthood’s mission.
“A lot of the time when people think of Planned Parenthood, they think of abortions,” Martinez said. “In reality, there are so many other things that they provide as well. We want to be able to not just provide those resources but let people know what other options are available.”
Sam MacPherson, a freshman political science and jurisprudence major, serves as the chapter’s second co-president. Recent legislation that has threatened reproductive rights has reminded MacPherson how important it is to support this kind of advocacy work.
“People have this preconceived notion that women’s rights and reproductive rights aren’t really necessary to fight for anymore because they’ve already been granted,” MacPherson said. “But that’s simply not the case, especially with Roe v. Wade [being in danger of being overturned] and an increase in [abortion] restrictions.”
As of now, Martinez and MacPherson hold chapter meetings monthly. There, they brainstorm events to organize in the future, such as a sex toy trivia night and a reproductive rights conference.
With the chapter still in development, students from all fields — from criminal justice to graphic design — are invited to help increase on-campus activism. As momentum grows, the chapter hopes to create multiple committees that address membership recruitment, education and advocacy, so that students can find their niche within the organization.
Alongside students, the chapter is supported by faculty who have a history of involvement in Planned Parenthood and who are equally as passionate about their cause.
Serving as the faculty advisor of the chapter, Dr. Monica Taylor is the director of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) program and was the one who proposed to bring PPGA to Montclair State.
“The first time I ever marched in Washington [DC] was when I was a college student and I was marching for pro-choice,” Taylor said. “I’m so grateful for those experiences because they made me feel like I had some agency. I hope we can get the students at Montclair State involved so they, too, can begin to think about ways they can get involved and have a voice.”
Another source of aid comes from Larisa Mendez Downes. She is the Public Affairs and Advocacy manager of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey and helps colleges in Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties to start on-campus chapters. In her role, Downes hopes to nurture an environment of student leadership that will positively influence their future lives and careers.
Like Taylor, Downes has been an activist for women’s and LGBTQ rights since college and is encouraged by student involvement.
“All the activism students are doing, particularly given the last six to eight years, it’s just been so inspiring,” Downes said. “It really is young people that are going to make that difference, [young people] who have that vocabulary, who have the vision and who ultimately, at the end of the day, have the highest stakes in this game.”
Combined, the members of PPGA of Montclair State hope to give students a direct, hands-on opportunity to become activists in their community. The chapter invites students and faculty to join in helping to implement lasting change in the mentality surrounding reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood.
To get involved, follow @ppgenactmsu on Instagram to keep up with the chapter’s upcoming meetings and events.