Health department, GVSU team up to fight STIs

GVL / Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Maddie Forshee

It’s no secret that college students are having sex. There is a taboo, though, when it comes to getting tested for sexually transmitted infections. That taboo can be especially detrimental in the state of Michigan, which ranks 15th highest in the U.S. for positive chlamydia cases.

Grand Valley State University is trying to break down that wall and make getting tested a more normal, approachable topic. By teaming up with the Ottawa County department of public health through the Wear One campaign, GVSU has created two educational videos that outline the Health Department’s services and facts about STIs in Ottawa County.

The Wear One campaign was launched in March 2014 after a notable rise in positive chlamydia cases in 18 to 25 year olds in Ottawa County in the past few years.

Heather Alberda, a sex educator with the department of public health, chalks the spike in cases up to an increase in high-risk behavior in young people, coupled with the inability to have open discussions about STIs.

“We’re living in a society where sex and sexuality has a very negative underlying tone to it,” she said. “It’s very guilt and shame-ridden, so we don’t have conversation about it. Having access to good sexual health knowledge and access to sexual health services is really important.”

There was a spike in positive cases from 2011 to 2012, jumping from 571 to 759 positive cases. In 2014, there were 710 positive cases and in the first three quarters of 2015, there were 592.

The Wear One campaign was designed to increase access to free contraception in various locations around Ottawa County by providing packages of condoms and educational information to anyone who needs it. There are currently 24 community businesses that have partnered with the health department across the county in Allendale, Holland and Grand Haven.

To promote for active education at GVSU, the department of public health pitched the idea of getting film and video students involved in a public service announcement project as part of the campaign.

“We decided to have two short PSAs to promote access to our condoms and to encourage people who are sexually active to get tested,” Alberda said. “What better place to do that than through the place and voice of the people we’re targeting?”

The group of students produced two videos: one in the Women’s Center, detailing what the campaign does and where students can pick up condoms, while the second video is much more educational, outlining what the testing process is like for young adults.

The Ottawa County department of public health visits campus regularly during job and career fairs, health fairs and during events like Campus Life Night. They provide pamphlets with more in-depth information at these events and welcome students to ask questions.

“Wear One in general is a conversation starter,” Alberda said. “It’s easily accessible, it’s visible on campus. It also creates a consistent message that wherever you go, there’s an expectation that we want you to protect yourself.”

On campus, there are several locations that students can pick up condoms. They can be found at the recreation center, the campus health center and in the Kirkhof Center at the Women’s Center, the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center and the 2020 Desk.

In addition to condoms provided by the department of public health, STI testing and resources are available at the campus health center.

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