NEWS

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December 3, 2013

Student Health Series Part 4

This is the last installment of a quarter-long series on student health care, the third of which can be read here.

Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW), the newest branch of Student Health and Counseling Services, was created in July 2011, formalizing a center for preventative resources. Kelly Hogan Stewart, the current director of HPW, said that an outside consultant, Keeling & Associates, was hired five years ago to assess the efficacy of health services for students on campus and determined that the University was “underserved in the preventative health arena.” HPW was created partially in response to the study by Keeling & Associates.

Stewart said that most of HPW’s programming was created based on data received from the National College Health Assessment, a national survey looking at factors like nutrition, alcohol use, sexual practices, and mental health among college students. Programming decisions are also made based on data gathered through three surveys sent out randomly to students every other year, looking at alcohol usage, general behaviors, mental health, and body image.

One major area for HPW is flu prevention. The Center for Disease Control estimates that between five and 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year. HPW provides open and free flu vaccination clinics and also holds closed clinics in houses and in the professional schools. Stewart said that over 5,000 students, faculty, and staff received flu shots at these clinics this quarter.

Some of HPW’s other initiatives include having a trained team of “Stressbusters,” students who provide back rubs at various social events put on by Health Promotion and Wellness like Uncommon Nights and Wellapalooza. HPW also provides education workshops on topics like alcohol and drug education and body image.

Peer educators and confidants

Many on-campus health programs and initiatives heavily involve student leadership and participation. Stewart said that based on information in the literature, “peer-to-peer education was found to be very effective.”

Peer Health Advocates is a group of nine students working for HPW whose primary duty is to connect students to resources like Student Health and Counseling Services. At the beginning of the year, they give presentations to each house about sexual health, alcohol safety, and bystander prevention.

Third-year Alexa Karczmar became a Peer Health Advocate after going to a high school with poor sexual health education and learning that other students here also come from similar backgrounds. Karczmar said that students on campus are aware that she is a resource to talk to privately because of her role as a Peer Health Advocate and are comfortable asking her questions.

“Students will come to me with things like, ‘I’ve never thought about being on birth control or using condoms, and now I want to have sex. What do I do?’” she said. “There’s this feeling that, in asking certain questions, you’re exposing things about yourself, which may or may not be true. What [Peer Health Advocates is] working towards as a group is making that a comfortable conversation and not acting as if sex needs to be hidden.”

In addition, entering first-years sometimes lack alcohol education and are unaware of what constitutes a standard drink, according to Karczmar.

“I think kids come to college and experience drinking often for the first time and often think that a full cup is a full cup, which isn’t necessarily true depending on the type of liquor,” she said.

Connecting students close to home

Another student role in HPW is the position of “Well Czar.” Formerly known as “Condom Czar,” for 20 years, this was an unofficial position within each house until last year, when the Well Czar program was brought under the umbrella of HPW.

Well Czars distribute health kits, which include supplies like cough drops and epsom salts. Many also create their own health-promoting initiatives in their houses. Breckenridge House Well Czar and second-year Mallory VanMeeter conducts stretching and tea sessions for her house.

Well Czars, like the former Condom Czars, also provide houses with packets of male condoms, female condoms, dental dams, and lubricant.

“It’s an emergency supply, so we ask Well Czars to make it known within the house that this is a supply that we want to be there all the time for emergencies,” said HPW Health Educator and coordinator of the Well Czar program Lena Ismail. “It’s not for everyday use. It’s just for in the middle of the night when somebody needs a condom or a female condom, and they’re able to know where they can get one for free and quickly.”

Other avenues of prevention

Beyond HPW, Tea Time and Sex Chats also gives away contraceptives at their sessions. The RSO, founded last year, holds 15 discussion sessions on various sexual education topics each year.

President and fourth-year Patty Fernandez said that its biggest effort is in promoting clear communication about sex.

“Our big prevention effort has been in consent—so preventing sexual assault by advocating consent, by advocating dialogue around sexuality, being clearheaded and sober when you’re having sex, particularly talking about talking,” she said. “Negotiating sexuality so that everybody is satisfied and everybody is a consenting party, but negotiating goes into everything. It goes into condom use, whether you want to use a dental dam, or whether you have been tested.”

In addition, Tea Time and Sex Chats heavily promotes sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing. Student Health Services provides STI testing, covered by the Student Life Fee.

Fernandez said that the most popular Tea Time and Sex Chats session is “Oral Sex,” during which students touched on the subject of condom use during oral sex. She feels students are unaware or neglectful of the risks posed by oral sex.

“Maybe [there is] a lack of knowledge that STIs can be spread through oral sex. I don’t know if it’s a lack of knowledge or a disregard. I legitimately don’t know,” she said. “Definitely there isn’t talk anywhere, not on this campus and not anywhere about using barriers during oral sex. In the oral sex session, one of the things that I did was I taught people [and] put a condom on an applicator with my mouth, so I sort of said there are sexy ways to incorporate protection. If you’re never gonna do it in a thousand years, that’s on you, but you need to manage risks.”

The Maroon is committed to understanding all aspects of student health care. If you or someone you know has experiences relating to health care on campus, please contact harinijaganathan@uchicago.edu.

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