Graduating HDFS Student Driven to Advocacy: ‘Everyone should have access to basic needs’

'I get involved in everything I’m passionate about, and UConn gave me that ability to tap into these different networks'

Sabrina Uva, a UConn senior who has led an effort to provide menstrual products like tampons for free at state-funded institutions in Connecticut.

Sabrina Uva '22 says her time at UConn not only provided her with cutting-edge skills, but with the confidence and insight to pursue activism on behalf of others (Photo courtesy of Reaj Uddin '23 (SFA)).

When Sabrina Uva ’22 (CLAS) considers which project she’ll get involved with next, she asks herself whether its end goal would make life better and fairer for whomever it targets.

“It does come down to equity, breaking down bias,” she says. “I just believe everyone should have access to basic needs.”

Countdown to Commencement word mark

That has been the driver for the UConn Stamford student who’s graduating next month as an honors scholar with a major in Human Development and Family Sciences and now must decide between a job offer at a virtual reality company in New York City and acceptance to UConn’s HDFS Ph.D. program.

She wants to continue advocacy work – which she pursued at UConn as founder of Huskies for Charity and president of the Stamford Student Government Association — yet continue to use the technology skills she gained while working at the Stamford Startup Studio. There, she says, she brought with her a social science mindset that frequently questioned how projects and decisions would impact families or society.

“I’ve just found a wide variety of experiences at UConn that I never imagined I would do. I get involved in everything I’m passionate about, and UConn gave me that ability to tap into these different networks,” she says. “All of these experiences have led me to where I am today.”

On March 9 she went before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, testifying in favor of HB 5272 An Act Concerning Menstrual Products, which would require that pads and tampons be available to those who need them, when they need them, and without a cost.

“Whether it’s food, whether it’s access to menstrual products, whether it’s having the ability to fully participate in school, no one should have to worry about where they’re going to get their essentials,” she says. “I believe menstrual products are a basic need similar to anything else in the bathroom, like soap and toilet paper.”

Over the last few years, the Stamford native sought donations to get period necessities to students, but she says that was just a short-term fix to a continuing problem. She soon started working with University leadership to pilot a program set to roll out this spring in Stamford that makes those products available in bathrooms.

Passage of the House legislation would widen the scope of her intent and make products available at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, in middle and high schools around the state, at institutions of higher education, and in emergency shelters or transitional housing that receive state grant funding.

The bill’s public hearing last month drew comments from nearly 80 individuals, including Uva and Asija Qyteza ‘24 (CLAS), president of the UConn Waterbury Associated Student Government. This is the second time such a bill has been raised, coming up in 2020 and again this session at the impetus of Rep. Kate Farrar, D-West Hartford. The 2020 session was cut short at the start of the pandemic, and the bill didn’t move forward.

“We don’t think this will end period poverty, but it’s one step toward reducing stigma, one step toward providing access to students and really understanding that period poverty is a widespread problem,” Uva says. “It really affects the ability to fully participate in all aspects of work, school, and life. We really need to shed more light on period poverty because we don’t want more people to feel any shame about periods and we don’t want that to influence their mental health and well-being.”

Mental health is a focus for Uva, who is looking at the results of a campus-wide survey she put out to see how activism affects the mental health and academic outcomes of students – research she plans to continue after graduation.

“We have a bunch of young advocates at UConn. Being part of a movement is really important for people and including young people at the table is equally as important,” she says. “I really am excited about the increase in young people running for office. Understanding the importance of civic engagement, it really helps you. It’s important to get youth involved because we’re the next generation that these bills and laws are going to directly affect.”

She adds, “Ultimately, I want to be able to create a community initiative where I could put all of my experiences together and go back to the community of Stamford.”