by Sade Smith, News Editor
According to U.S. News, an estimated 50 percent of young Americans who get tested (ages 18-24) are infected with HIV and didn’t know.
So what’s the problem? Thanks to modern science, HIV has been reduced to something of a chronic disease instead of the historic fatal one. But the long history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic began with the stigma that it could only be contracted through homosexual male intercourse, or contraction with peoples from African countries.
Today, this stigma haunts young adults and testing centers, as well as the HIV testing offered on UMass Dartmouth’s campus.
Senior women gender studies major and UMass Dartmouth Peer Health Educator Evangeline Kuzmech facilitates a variety of programs to increase awareness on STD’s and safe sex for students. In her two years working as a peer health educator, she has noticed that students often don’t respond to questions surrounding STD’s, for fear of isolation or shame. “A lot of students will ask questions on paper. You know people know the answer to things but they just don’t want to answer them out loud.”
Nashely Rosa, a senior sociology major said, “Most people think that just because you have an STD, it automatically means that you just sleep around, but all it takes is one time.”
In most recent years, attention has been on larger social
and now politically charged issues, such as abortion policies and teen pregnancy. STD’s have many myths attached to them, unlike pregnancy, as people are less likely to bring up chlamydia at a college mixer.
And while we all know a friend or two who has contracted an STD or STI, the numbers don’t reflect the affected population. As a result, a lot of STD/ STI’s don’t go reported.
During November’s free and confidential HIV testing on campus, only 19 students were tested. And on a campus of about 9,000 undergraduate students, Kuzmech says that while these numbers vary, they are lower than they would like to be.
It would be safe to assume that students who aren’t getting tested with Seven Hills get tested at off campus locations or simply aren’t sexually active. But according to the Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality, students have more concerns with pregnancy, as it is the most visible of unprotected sex consequences.
Students also understand that there is more than one way to effectively handle pregnancy, versus transitioning to living with an STD or undergoing treatment. The stigmas attached to contracting an STD are seemingly more socially dangerous than the ones attached to pregnancy. Kuzmech said, “You see pregnancy, but you don’t exactly see STD’s.”
The unseen symptoms of STD’s and STI’s include redness, irritation around genitalia and even nausea in some cases. Kuzmech explained that a lot of students will write these off as a need for a change in undergarments without considering the worst. As students are also less aware of these symptoms, they are less likely to seek medical attention, leaving STD’s untreated until the irritation or pain becomes overwhelming.
The free and confidential HIV testing offered on campus comes once a month, provided by Seven Hills. STI/STD testing is also available through Health Services.
Assistant Director of Health Services, Health Education & Promotion Beth-Anne Guthrie, MPH said, “We participate in the GYT (Get yourself tested) Campaign to increase aware- ness about STD’s and how to prevent them, link young people to STD testing services, and promote a more open dialogue with partners and health care providers.”
This open dialogue is also reiterated by the Peer Health Educators. Using entertaining and interactive games such as Sex Jeopardy, helps generate sexual health information to students. This has proven to be one of the most successful workshops. Junior marketing major and Peer Health Educator Laodecia Fevrier said, “Students are definitely participatory in the games, and after Sex Fest, we will see a bunch of students come to the next HIV testing.”
Continuing efforts such as these will uproot false myths and leave room to plant helpful and active awareness about sexual health.
For on campus STD testing and more visit Health Services or the live Well office on the second floor of Oak Glen Hall.