The sunset reflects off Lehigh's Health and Wellness Center on April 6, 2024. The Health Center will be holding free STI screenings on April 9 and May 1. (Griffin Sawyer/B&W Staff)

Breaking STI stigma: Health and Wellness Center expands free testing clinics


For many students, college is a time when to begin exploring sexual or romantic relationships. Without proper education and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases, coupled with stigma leading to shame or embarrassment, this age group can be at a higher risk of infection. 

To prioritize student health and well-being, Lehigh’s Health and Wellness Center has taken strides by continuing to make testing readily available through its free STI testing clinic. The center has recently expanded testing options and appointment availability, including blood tests and various additional free testing days throughout the semester. 

These initiatives aim to provide accessible and comprehensive support for students’ sexual health needs while combating the stigma surrounding STIs. 

The free STI clinic, held throughout both the spring and fall semesters, has offered testing for infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea in the past, and the center has recently incorporated HIV blood tests.

They are now offering another blood test that detects syphilis. 

Sarah Jacobs, ‘25, a peer health advisor, believes these clinics are an invaluable resource on campus and speak to the accessibility that the Health and Wellness Center hopes to provide.

“One thing that I love about our clinics is that they’re free to use,” Jacobs said. “You can just go sign up for a time and then just show up, and then you’re getting to know, ‘Do I have an STI? Do I need to contact these people that I’ve had intimate relations with?’” 

Jacobs emphasized the significance of normalizing STI testing on campus and creating a culture of comfortability around healthy sexual practices. 

Karen Sicinski, the director of nursing at the Health and Wellness Center, said appointments at all of the center’s free STI clinics can be scheduled online. The peer health advisors attempt to increase awareness of the available dates and times among students. 

Sicinski also highlighted the center’s commitment to accessibility by solidifying these tests as a regular, free on-campus resource. 

“The idea is that it be accessible without barriers,” Sicinski said. “We saw how successful the appointments went last year, but I don’t think we were doing it as frequently. So, this year we decided we want this to be a regular thing, regularly available.” 

The Health and Wellness Center has also updated its policies and systems, encouraging students to use the resources available and making them even more accessible. 

“Historically, if I think back to pre-pandemic, we used to do (the clinic) maybe one night a semester, no appointments,” Sicinski said. “50 to 100 people would show up. (It was) complete chaos.”

Now, the STI, chlamydia and gonorrhea testings are bi-weekly, averaging 25 to 30 students each clinic. Sicinski said this allows the center to see and get results to more students more efficiently. 

Sicinski also noted the changes the Health and Wellness Center has made to its HIV testing routine and the incorporation of syphilis testing. The center had its first HIV clinic in February, which was completely booked. With the increased interest, they held other clinics in March. 

During recent testing, the center conducted surveys with students to gauge interest in potentially offering syphilis testing. 

“We again investigated the best price we could through our lab, knowing that syphilis has been on the increase in some communities,” Sicinski said. “We’ve now added that option to this month’s clinic.”

Sicinski said transitioning to an appointment system allows the center to combat the negative stigma surrounding sexual health and ensure confidentiality. Seeing students every five minutes instead of having a large crowd in the lobby at a given time allows the Health and Wellness Center to protect patient privacy and ensure a comfortable environment for students utilizing the services.

Mia Zibello, ’24, a peer health advisor, emphasized the importance of accessibility and destigmatization.

“I think it’s important for it to be accessible for students because I think that there’s a lot of stigma around it,” Zibello said. “Offering this free service makes it a lot less scary and just a lot more accessible to students.” 

Through these initiatives, the Health and Wellness Center is striving to promote a culture that welcomes conversations around sexual health and wellbeing. 

By providing accessible testing options and breaking down barriers to care, the center aims to empower students to prioritize their sexual health and engage in informed decision-making. 

Caden DellaPenta, ‘27, said he intends to get tested at one of the upcoming clinics, as he thinks these are a great resource to have on campus. 

“Why not take advantage of it?” DellaPenta said. “I think always getting tested, like when you’re between partners or with partners, just makes you feel safer … and more secure in your body and within your relationships.”

As the university community embraces these initiatives, the Health and Wellness Center remains committed to creating an environment where students feel safe and empowered to prioritize their sexual health.

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.

Leave A Reply