Social marketing, reproductive rights and the environment: How one COPH grad tackles all three

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At first glance, it may seem hard to decipher how reproductive rights, protecting our environment and social marketing all overlap.

But for USF College of Public Health (COPH) alumna Kelley Dennings, it comes easily.

Dennings, who earned an MPH in public health practice from USF in 2018, is now working as a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, AZ, where she addresses issues associated with population growth and overconsumption―and how both can negatively impact the environment.

When thinking about it from a consumption perspective, it’s easy to see how stabilizing population growth using a human rights lens can help reduce the pollution and waste that devastate natural habitats. Dennings believes that access to all forms of birth control, abortion care and medically accurate health education provides potential for environmental changes in our communities as well.

“Addressing growth requires me to focus on family planning. I advocate for universal access to contraception and comprehensive sexual education,” said Dennings. “The [Center for Biological Diversity] is a unique environmental organization in that it supports the reproductive rights and justice movement along with advocating for the decrease in the consumption of plastic, changing to plant-based diets and 100 percent renewable energy.”

Dennings has worked as an advocate for women’s health issues and reproductive rights. (Photo courtesy of Kelley Dennings)

Dennings was the founding president of the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA) and a 2018 recipient of the Millbank Social Marketing Award for Innovation in the Environmental Field. In addition, she recently received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the World Social Marketing Conference in June of 2019. These experiences make Dennings uniquely qualified to lead this type of intervention and raise awareness about the connection between family planning, habitat loss and climate change.

“I bring my social marketing skills to my work with the Center for Biological Diversity,” said Dennings. “One goal of mine is to increase the number of nonprofit groups working at the intersection of reproductive and environmental justice.”

Dennings received an Outstanding Achievement Award at the World Social Marketing Conference in June 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dennings)

Dennings was first introduced to social marketing when a supervisor suggested she focus on behavior change for a presentation linking litter and recycling. She then came to USF, where she pursued a certificate in social marketing and found a valuable support group in her professors and fellow students.

“My nonprofit work has provided many opportunities in designing, implementing and evaluating social and behavioral change programs,” said Dennings. “So I frequently draw upon all of my social marketing, advocacy and behavioral change classes.”

With all of the experiences she has gained through SMANA and the lessons learned throughout her time at USF, Dennings remains focused on her new role at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“My future plans include continuing to grow in my position while also continuing my volunteer work with the Social Marketing Association of North America.”

Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young? A female Sherlock Holmes

Where might we find you on the weekends? In my garden

What was the last book you read? “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo

What superpower would you like to have? The ability to stop time or have an infinite amount of time during the day

What is your all-time favorite movie? “St. Elmo’s Fire” or “The Princess Bride” or almost anything from the 80’s.

Story by Cody Brown, USF College of Public Health