By Emma Friedlander
The foreplay to Sex Week kicked off on Tuesday, Feb. 6 with free STI testing on the second floor of the JRC. It was hosted by Student Health and Counseling Services (SHACS) and the Student Government Association (SGA), with help from the Student Health Information Center (SHIC) and peer mentors. The event ran from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offered students the opportunity to get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia — and pick up a free scoop of ice cream.
“It’s been a really great collaboration between SHIC and SHACS and the peer mentors and SGA,” said Deb Shill, director of SHACS operations. “It’s been a really big project that we’ve all worked on, so I think aside from all the testing, it’s been a really good way to get to know each other and have an ongoing collaboration.”
The impetus for all these groups to collaborate on the free testing project began over the summer, when the SHIC peer educators got in contact with SHACS. This was a response to the closing of Central Iowa Family Planning last year, leaving many students and community members without accessible, affordable and confidential sexual healthcare.
“We’re hoping for a really good turnout today so that the school can see the demand for STI testing, and then hopefully we can work towards better options in town,” said Vivian Cheslack ’19, a SHIC peer educator, before Tuesday’s event. “There were promises after Central Iowa Family Planning closed that there would be something to fill the hole that it left. There were promises from the administration for that, and there just hasn’t been anything.”
Currently, the College offers a couple of options for students seeking STI testing. As of last November, the Primary Health Care mobile clinic has occasionally visited Grinnell, at the Light Center for Community Health at 306 4th Ave. The mobile clinic is supposed to offer reproductive healthcare services in Grinnell on the first and third Monday of every month, but there have been obstacles in recent weeks.
“It’s barely gotten going, really. It’s had problems the last two times,” said Claudia Beckwith ’77, a nurse practitioner who works at the mobile unit. “We haven’t been here since December. … Hopefully in two weeks, it will become regular and will be here from 3 to 7 p.m.”
Students can also visit general practitioners in town, although this may require them to pay out of pocket or use their parents’ insurance, which can also be an obstacle. Nonetheless, these options are still considered too limited by the organizers of the STI testing event.
“We need so much more. It would be great to have a daily clinic,” Beckwith said. “The College has always had the model of triage and then sending people into town, which is fine as long as there are enough people in town to take care of the students in a confidential, respectful way. It would be great if the College had a clinic, but that’s never been the College’s model. If students really want that, they’ll have to advocate for it.”
The event was organized by the state of Iowa, which only covers gonorrhea and chlamydia testing, according to Shill. SHACS also offers HIV testing upon request for $20.
“I wish HIV testing was free here,” Cheslack said. “I think SHACS didn’t bring HIV in today because they’re trying to break down barriers to STI testing, and I think there’s a lot more anxiety surrounding HIV tests than gonorrhea and chlamydia. A big part of the outreach for today was these two tests are curable with antibiotics, if you test positive you can also get free treatment.”
Although the event only offered testing for gonorrhea and chlamydia, Beckwith still stressed that even this limited testing is important.
“Most people don’t have symptoms and at least 50 percent of people have been exposed to [gonorrhea or chlamydia]. It’s definitely important to get tested,” Beckwith said.
While SHACS, SHIC, SGA and the other organizers were thrilled with the high turnout for the event, they still hope that more resources for sexual health testing will be established at the College.
“I’d love to offer this twice a year, or every semester,” Shill said.
SHIC also hopes that high turnout at the event will translate to a higher priority for sexual healthcare at the College.
“Essentially, the answer that we’ve gotten from SHACS is they don’t have the financial support from the school to [offer free testing]. Hopefully, in the future there is free STI testing on campus, or even in town,” Cheslack said. “There are so many things that the school could be doing. I don’t think it’s a priority, so maybe making it more of a priority would be a good goal.”