If you don't maintain a high enough GPA, many schools will either place you on academic probation or kick you out. But what happens if your school fails? Trojan's Sexual Health Report Card was released this Tuesday, giving a GPA and a numerical rank to 141 schools in the United States on how well campus programs address sexual health, with points for things like condom availability, HIV testing and student health center hours. Some colleges and universities have taken the report card as a challenge and worked hard to better the services at their campus. And regardless that young people account for almost 40 percent of new HIV infections every year, some college institutions still refuse to budge.
Ideally report cards, both as standard school assessment and reports like Trojan's, aren't solely intended to assign rank but allow people to see areas where extra help is needed and where problems can be addressed. And while campuses like University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have taken the report card as a moment to improve the services on their campus, jumping all the way to sexual health valedictorian from spot 68 only two years ago, there are many campuses at the bottom that have shown very little improvement.
What is happening there? Who is filling in these gaps?
Trojan donates over a million condoms every year to Advocates for Youth Great American Condom Campaign, a project that distributes condoms to 1,000 selected college "SafeSites" every semester. The purpose of the campaign is to provide condoms directly to student organizers as a way for them to help normalize condom usage and distribute them to people that might not access them through different means. Students apply every semester, and in their applications they discuss why it is important to have these condoms.
It comes as no surprise then that we have a good number of SafeSites applicants that go to schools that made it on the bottom of the report card.
I decided to reach out to Jeremiah, a senior at St. John's University in New York (it ranks in the bottom 10 at #135), and has been a Great American Condom Campaign SafeSite for a couple years now. I wanted talk about what he was doing as part of the Great American Condom Campaign on campus, and to get a sense of what the campus atmosphere was.
After a brief introduction, I told him I was calling about a sexual health report card Trojan just released, and he laughed and said "St. John's did really bad, didn't we?"
I chuckled, and asked what he meant.
"St. John's does nothing at all. We can't talk about condoms, we can't talk about sex, we can't talk about LGBT issues -- they just act like it doesn't exist. "
Jeremiah also mentioned a recent conversation with an administrator that informed him about a new policy that fines students $50 for contraception, whether it be condoms or birth control, found in their dorm rooms during routine "health and safety" checks.
"I have to do everything off of campus and advertise through Twitter and Facebook. Since I'm one of the only resources available, people know to come to me to ask for what they need."
Jeremiah distributes condoms at events off campus, as well as passes them out to folks who ask for them. He mentioned some folks are reluctant to ask at first, but his matter-of-fact approach of "I've got them, and you know you need them" removes a lot of the anxiety the students have about their requests.
Jeremiah is graduating this year, and I expressed concern about who will continue his work when he leaves. He sighed; "I'll find somebody. I've got to find somebody, and there will be somebody. This is too important."
Sometimes institutions fail us. But young people aren't passively letting their needs go unmet. Folks like Jeremiah seek out and organize other ways to make sure their communities are served.
"I do this to give people support. Young people have the most at stake. Anything can go wrong, and most of us don't have the resources available to us if something does. I want us to be able to plan for our futures."