In 2017, over 2 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concordia’s Student Government Association is doing their part to combat rises in STD cases through an initiative to sell contraceptives on campus.
Katelyn Jensen, SGA sophomore class representative, is currently working on this initiative, which she has been doing so alongside her fellow SGA senators and Katie Nystuen, Health Services Coordinator, since the fall of 2018.
Jensen, Nystuen and SGA’s work on the initiative is timely, as sexually transmitted disease rates across the United States are climbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States in 2017,” marking the fourth consecutive year of increases in these STDs. While STDs are not eradicable, condoms could provide a means for lowering these numbers. The CDC states that condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are “highly effective” in preventing HIV and STDs transmitted through bodily fluids.
Concordia conducts a health and behavior survey every other year, which enables the college to gather data on the student body’s condom use habits during the last 30 days. Of the 664 respondents who had engaged in the sexual acts listed on the spring 2017 survey, those who had “always” used a condom were the minority in comparison to the sum of other answers for each sexual act. Results from the survey can be viewed below.
Nystuen believes that there is “room to improve” condom use statistics and safer sex practices on campus. Students, too, are expressing their opinion concerning this topic and SGA’s initiative to sell contraceptives on campus.
“I think that [the initiative] would encourage safer sex practices and give students the ability to protect their health in a more convenient way,” Lauryn Hinkley, a first-year student, said.
David Kelm, another first-year student, believes that having contraceptives available for purchase on campus is “incredibly important.”
If the initiative passes, Jensen says that SGA hopes to have condoms available for purchase in the Korn Krib and Cobber Bookstore by the end of the spring 2019 semester, but by the fall 2019 semester at latest. While Jensen has been working to provide Cobbers with condoms since the fall 2018 semester, her work would not have been possible before the spring of 2018.
Before SGA could officially start work on the initiative to sell contraceptives on campus, they had to grapple with Concordia’s Promotions Policy, an endeavor that began in 2016. This policy, found in the college’s student handbook, lists what products, services, activities, and substances can and cannot be advertised on campus. Prior to April 2018, contraceptives were listed among the items that were not allowed to be promoted at Concordia.
“As a private college, Concordia has the right to restrict on-campus promotions that may run contrary to the standards and policies of the institution,” the policy begins.
After a push from SGA in 2016 to change this policy “fizzled out,” as Brent Johnson, Assistant Director of Student Engagement, described it, SGA decided to try again in the spring of 2018. After presenting their argument to the Student Affairs Committee, the Promotions Policy was reviewed, and, as of April 12, 2018, the policy no longer listed contraceptives on the list of banned items. Thus, SGA was officially able to start work on an initiative to sell contraceptives on campus. At this time, “pregnancy related counseling and services not provided by the college” was also struck from that same list of prohibited items and services.
Jensen credits Micayla Bitz with doing “most” of the work that it took to rewrite the Promotions Policy. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad, Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life at Concordia, also played a role in facilitating the change.
“At my request, the Promotions Policy was changed last year in order to make more room for sexual education and information dissemination about contraception to our students,” she said. The wellness program and Health Services are two on-campus resources that offer information to students regarding sexual health and safer sex practices.
Concordia’s Core Curriculum requires all students to take Wellness. One of the units Wellness covers is about healthy relationships and sexual health, where students examine reproductive choices, contraceptive options, and safer sex practices, and identify characteristics of common STIs. Jennifer Christofferson, Interim Director of Wellness, admits that the course has limited time to go through this topic, as the course is only one credit. Though, if students are curious to learn more about healthy relationships and sexual health, Christofferson teaches Personal and Social Health, a four-credit course that she says covers the topic in “much greater detail.”
If students are not currently enrolled in either of these classes and have questions about sexual health or safer sex practices, Health Services is always willing to provide students with educational resources, referrals, and condoms.
“Students come in [to the Health Services office] to talk about safer sex practices, preventative care, or where to go if they are concerned about STI/STDs or pregnancies,” Nystuen said.
Though the SGA initiative to sell contraceptives on campus hasn’t passed yet, Jensen already has a vision for the future of the initiative. Jensen hopes that SGA will be able to team up with Nystuen to distribute educational materials to students about sexual health and safer sex. Jensen would also like to create more safe spaces where Cobbers can feel comfortable asking questions about safe sex.