The college experience, though fun and exciting, can also be an extremely nerve-racking time in a young person’s life. Besides the stresses of moving to a new place with a new group of people, new responsibilities—such as supporting yourself financially and looking after your own well-being—often come into play.
Typically, colleges make the latter as easy and accessible as possible. On-campus health clinics provide support systems for mental health, medical care, drug prescriptions and, in response to potential sexual experimentation, resources to maintain a healthy and safe sex life.
However, for those in need of the free sexually transmitted disease and HIV testing Columbia has offered in the past, it just became a little more difficult. The program has been suspended for the spring 2012 term, and the monthly events to encourage testing and make access as easy as possible have been canceled. Issues arose because of budget constraints between Columbia and the Chicago Department of Public Health, and while money will always be an issue during these economic times, student health should not suffer in the process.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people ages 13–29 account for 39 percent of all new HIV diagnoses, 75 percent of those occurring in people 20–24, prime college ages. One out of six people ages 14–49 has genital herpes, gonorrhea rates are on the rise and the CDC recommends getting tested for chlamydia at least once per year.
These are not things to be taken lightly. Both Columbia and the CDPH should do as much as possible to provide services to diagnose these diseases early in students and provide subsequent medical care.
While the Health Center provides condoms openly and freely, without services directly relating to HIV and STD prevention and testing, they are not giving students anything they don’t already have access to. If students have already made the decision to have safe sex, chances are they provide themselves with condoms.
The CDPH provides other resources in the city for free testing for students, but to most students the act of getting tested and potential further treatment is scary enough as it is; having to do so in an unfamiliar clinic in a potentially unfamiliar part of the city where the patients aren’t primarily students adds an extra layer of anxiety.
Not making testing as easy and comfortable a process as possible will likely deter students from taking the extra steps to ensure their health and safety. This in turn could cause other students’ health and safety to be put in danger for no good reason.
Columbia argues that to make testing free and available at all times, Health Center fees for students would have to be raised, and it might not be worth it in the end. I can’t speak for the entire student body, but I’m willing to pay a few extra bucks to keep such an important service afloat. Then maybe students will have one less thing to worry about when taking on the other stresses college brings.