GV, Ottawa County offer free, on-campus STI testing to students


GVL / Bri Conway

Emma Armijo, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University Recreation & Wellness Center, in partnership with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH), is hosting monthly testing for the new school year for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that is free for students.

The first of these monthly events took place on Wednesday, Sept. 14 in the Holton Hooker Living Center.

Students that stopped in at the testing location were greeted by registered nurses who were prepared to provide an STI test kit and answer any questions the students may have.

GVSU Student Health Promotions Coordinator Katie Jourdan said Recreation & Wellness saw a need for sexual health services on campus following the National College Health Assessment data in 2018. Since she was hired in 2019, the visibility of such services has increased with more marketing, additions to peer educator programs and GVSU’s continued partnership with OCDPH.

Jourdan said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National College Health Assessment (NCHA) data point to college-aged individuals being the most at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

“Statistically, half of all sexually active individuals will get an STI before the age of 25, and many times individuals do not have symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is by getting tested,” Jourdan said. “Besides abstinence, using condoms or other barrier methods and regularly getting tested for STIs are some of the best ways to protect oneself from STIs.”

The testing process typically takes around five minutes. In the event of positive test results, students can expect communication from one of the registered nurses on site around a week after they got tested.

This is a resource that is fully open and available to the entire campus community. There is no charge, the process is painless and no insurance is required. In the event that a student would need antibiotics, the student and an Ottawa County Health facilitator schedule a private meeting on campus to exchange the medicine for free.

Leanna Kermeen, a registered public health nurse for OCDPH, explained at the STI event that having STIs like chlamydia – the most common STI for the Ottawa County and GVSU communities – and not knowing it can have serious consequences.

“Chlamydia is a bacteria that can grow inside of a person’s reproductive tract, and that’s a really damaging bacteria if it’s left there untreated,” Kermeen said. “So, if you’re having sex, particularly sex with multiple partners or without condoms or with people that you don’t know what risks they might be bringing to you, then you yourself could have a bacteria in your body and you might not even feel it or know it.”

Kermeen explained that the free STI testing on campus aims to protect students and prevent such infections. Getting tested is not something for which anyone should feel shame.

“What we really want to do is just to protect your reproductive organs from that long-term harm that could come from an infection,” Keerman said. “We also love the idea of treating infection that we find because that means that fewer people will spread it and our numbers will hopefully come down.”

Heather Alberta, a certified sexuality educator at the STI testing event, believes that the stigma around the subject of sexual health is doing no one any good.

Having the STI testing available in an area on campus that students can access, Alberta said, is one way that the Recreation & Wellness Center, GVSU and OCDPH can work to break down those barriers and put the community’s health first.

“It helps to break down the stigma and the barriers in regards to people accessing sexual health services, as well as breaking down the stigma about who actually is getting tested for sexually transmitted infections,” Alberta said. “It’s not like a certain person or a certain population that needs to be tested, but anyone who is engaged in sexual behavior is going to be at risk for a sexually transmitted disease.”

Free STI testing on GVSU’s Allendale campus will continue to take place on the second Wednesday of each month through the semester from 4-7 p.m. in the Holton Hooker Living Center.

The Recreation & Wellness Center also offers at-home STI testing for students more comfortable with that option. A QR code can be found on the website as well as at the testing site for individuals to order an at-home testing kit.

The kind of accessibility and awareness around sexual health in college provided by this program, Keerman said, is providing a climate for students to be proactive with their health without feeling shame, financial stress or the impression that such should be anything but guaranteed.

“It’s free, it’s anonymous and it’s your right as a human being,” Keerman said.