Like many soon-to-be first-year students, Tallyn Owens ’16 attended Open Rhodes hoping to find ways to get involved on campus. Her Peer Assistant introduced her to VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood), a nationwide program on college campuses that strives to educate students and community youth about healthy relationships, sexual health, and reproductive rights. Interested in politics and reproductive health as a high school student, Owens knew she had found her niche. She forged a relationship with VOX—including serving as secretary and president of the organization—that lasted throughout her college career.
Working with the organization on campus also led to experiences working in the community. As a VOX leader, the summer after her freshman year Owens was asked to attend Planned Parenthood’s Youth Organizing and Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference allowed her to meet students from all over the country, lobby on Capitol Hill with Congressman Steve Cohen, and help lead a panel session about organizing for reproductive justice. She spent the next summer as an intern at Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region (PPGMR), and helped with a camp that taught high school students organizing skills and held presentations on community topics. Owens says it was inspiring to interact with high school students taking the initiative to get involved in community issues, but it was also encouraging to work with Rhodes alumni Leah Ford ’15, Iris Mercado ’15, Grace Weil ’11, and president and CEO of PPGMR Ashley Cofield ’92. “It was exciting to see people who were in the same position as me as an undergrad go on to do such great work in the field I am interested in.”
On campus, Owens says her Introduction to Public Policy class with Professor Renee Johnson was the most influential academic experience of her college career. “The class allowed me to connect some my organizing experiences to my political science major.” In fact, conducting research for this class helped her to refine her career path. “I realized policy research was where I saw myself contributing in the social justice sphere.” Her decision to pursue policy research as a career was reinforced last summer while working as a research assistant for Professor Amy Jasperson.
In addition to her work with VOX, Owens co-founded Culture of Consent, a student group dedicated to ending sexual assault on campus and the stigma that accompanies it. She is pleased with how the organization has grown since it was founded and hopes it will continue to grow and adapt to better serve the campus community. “Having students willing to dedicate their time and resources to work on these issues is very important,” she adds.
Owens also chose to graduate early, and credits Rhodes with preparing her to enter the job market and for the connections it gave her to alumni in her chosen field. She is now following that career path in Washington, D.C., working for a public policy firm.
By Margaret Tronsor '17