Beyond the coughs, fevers and sore throats, there exist a range of illnesses that are not as openly discussed at Lehigh. To circumvent this lack of dialogue, the Sexual Health Committee strives to advocate for and support the sexual health and well-being of students on campus.
The Pride Center, the Health Advancement & Prevention Strategies Office, the Center for Gender Equity, the Health and Wellness Center, and Gender Violence Education and Support Office work in conjunction to create a diverse group of resources for students.
Brooke DeSipio, assistant dean and director of the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support, said the office promotes any events on campus relating to gender violence protection, sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, stalking or sexual exploitation. The office also educates students on preventative measures, such as bystander intervention, trauma informed training, consent, healthy sex and relationships.
The Gender Violence Education and Support Office and the Center for Gender Equity (formerly the Women’s Center) often collaborate. In the beginning of November, the two offices united for the Red Flag Campaign, an awareness campaign that encouraged students to take note of all “red flags” when dating, and to resist all forms of dating violence including verbal, sexual and physical abuse.
The Gender Violence Education and Support Office used to be a part of the Women’s Center. However, five years ago, according to DeSipio, the university did a major internal and external review and pulled the office out of the Women’s Center, making it a separate space.
“Because of our history, we’ve always had a super strong partnership,” DeSipio said. “Even as we’ve separated into distinct spaces, we still have work that largely overlaps.”
Jenna Papaz, director of Health Advancement & Prevention Strategies, had similar feelings about the collaborative nature of the Sexual Health Committee. Before the committee was piloted by a student, the offices did not combine efforts as much.
“We all had these peer groups working on similar topics, but we weren’t talking,” Papaz said. “We realized we should be coordinating our programs more.”
This year, the committee has been working on two major projects —increasing sexual health messaging and STI testing on campus, and increasing student access to safe sex supplies. In the past, the committee has offered one STI testing event per year, (but it has since increased the testing to four times each academic year), with two testing events each semester.
Students can go to the Health Center to receive STI testing at any time, but if student’s insurance doesn’t cover the testing, they must pay an out-of-pocket fee.
“We recognized that the cost could be a barrier for some students,” said Chelsea Elizabeth Gilbert, director of the Pride Center for Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. “That is why we increased testing via partnerships with St. Luke’s Hospital and Lehigh Valley Health Network.”
The committee worked for nine months to pilot a new condom dispenser program in Lamberton Hall, a resource Gilbert is confident students will heavily utilize.
“If we have to replace the condoms every week, that tells us something,” Gilbert said.
Additionally, the committee is working to de-stigmatize STI testing by taking measures like advertising resources off-campus that students can utilize if they feel uncomfortable receiving testing on campus.
The Health Center is also training staff to break down the many barriers and myths surrounding testing by making students aware that tests are not scary and should be commonplace.
“Sexual health is part of normal health, and STI testing is a part of that,” Gilbert said.
Karen Sicinski, a registered nurse at the Health and Wellness Center, is working to eliminate some of the fear surrounding on-campus STI testing at Lehigh.
To receive testing, students can sign up online from the comfort of their dorm rooms. These appointments can be made day and night, and a student will see a nurse and answer some questions regarding their symptoms. The nurse will then collect specimens, either via a urine test or a vaginal swab, both of which are self-collected by the student. The results of the testing arrive promptly.
“When I mail out specimens on Tuesday, I will usually have them back by late Wednesday,” Sicinski said. “If I mail out specimens on Friday, I can usually have them back by Monday.”
Students whose tests come back positive will receive a phone call from the Health and Wellness Center, so that they may be treated as soon as possible. The most common sexually transmitted infections—chlamydia and gonorrhea—can be easily treated with a single dose of antibiotics.
The Health and Wellness Center recommends screening once a year, any time there is a change of partners or following any instance of unprotected exposure.
“Some people are surprised when they receive positive results,” Sicinski said. “That’s why it is so important to receive frequent testing.”
Plan B is available at the front desk of the Health Center at a reasonable cost. Most pharmacies sell the emergency contraceptive for fifty to sixty dollars, but it is offered for ten dollars at the center.
At the end of the day, the Sexual Health Committee wants students to feel supported and break down the barriers surrounding sexual well-being.
“We are all working towards a common goal,” Papaz said. “We want the students to be safe and healthy, and we have their best interests at heart.”