Campus ranked in top-20 sex ed programs
Trojan Sexual Health Report ranked the University ninth out of 141 colleges nationwide for providing one of the most extensive campus sexual health services.
The study — which Sperling’s BestPlaces conducts — highlights the need for sexual health resources and recognizes the campuses, ranking them by accessibility of sexual health programs and information to students, said Francesca Maresca, coordinator of Health Outreach, Promotion and Education.
Maresca said the presence of sex education programs is part of a college student’s development needs.
“Part of the learning environment outside the classroom involves accepting the fact that students might become sexually active, and it’s important to have the tools to make the best decisions,” she said. “We want students to thrive inside and outside the classroom.”
University Health Services offers many programs through HOPE including Sexual Health Advocates, Alcohol and Drug Awareness Generated by Students (ADAwGS), Nutrition Advocates and a peer mental health group, said Charlotte Longworth, a HOPE sexual health advocate.
The colleges were rated on criteria of availability of sexual and reproductive health services, availability of condoms and other forms of contraception, availability of sexual and health information, and outreach programs, Maresca said.
She said HOPE’s philosophy is to encourage students to seek safe methods.
“We are never going to tell students to not have sex or to not drink. But if they are engaging in those behaviors, we are here to assist them,” she said.
The peer education program, SHA, allows students to spend an entire semester in a three-credit academic course learning how to become peer sexual health advocates, Maresca said.
“This course has an academic as well as an experiential component,” she said. “It’s a three-step process which includes observing a sexual health advocate, helping veterans prepare for a sexual health advocate program and co-facilitating a program with a veteran.”
Any student group can request to schedule a peer sexual health program and HOPE will come in and facilitate an interactive workshop, Maresca said.
HOPE holds workshops on campus for residence halls, greek life organizations and various student groups, covering topics such as contraception, sexually transmitted infections, sexuality, body image, and alcohol and drug education, Longworth said.
“Our workshops include promoting STI awareness, teaching how to properly put on condoms, communicating about sex, prevention and recognizing signs of alcohol poisoning, and helping students gain awareness on these subjects,” Longworth said.
Longworth, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the University has an untraditional approach to sex education.
“HOPE uses a peer-to-peer education approach, which makes the environment of workshops comfortable and facilitators approachable,” she said.
Longworth said HOPE’s health education facilitators are informative and vibrant.
“Our workshops strive to be a respectful learning environment. The peer-to-peer method of sex education helps students to feel at ease in discussing complex topics because the facilitator leading the workshops is relatable,” she said.
Workshops, free and appropriate for all grade levels, are held on all campuses. Maresca said this semester she has more than 20 requests for workshops.
About a few thousand students attended the sexual health workshops last year, Maresca said.
Longworth said during the programs she facilitated so far this semester she had 25 to 35 participants attending each, but the turnout can be unpredictable.
“Some of these workshops might have had 20 people, while residence halls workshops can have up to 150 people,” she said.
HOPE also offers HIV testing, flu shot clinics and is home to SHADES Theater, a student-run theater ensemble that works together to write and perform skits on health and sexuality, Longworth said.
“Outside of workshops, we host events such as open mics and a ‘Freak Firsts’ where we have free food and games at the Rutgers Zone on the first Thursday of every month,” she said.
Sexual health services with a full medical component are also available to students, Maresca said.
“Our female students can access gynecological health care,” she said. “Both male and female students can access testing for sexually transmitted infections, fill prescriptions for contraceptives in our full-service retail pharmacy and have access to a full range of information.”
HOPE works to raise awareness to students about sex, drugs and alcohol through different outlets like distributing literature, running a blog and managing a Twitter account to keep students updated, Maresca said.
“We understand that there is no one perfect way to reach students,” she said. “So we make the information as available as possible, while being aware that it is difficult to catch students’ attention.”
Despite the University’s ranking, Maresca said she was skeptical about the study, citing that it is not a rigorous scientific research process because researchers sometimes do not speak to the relevant people.
“If they don’t speak to the right people, they may not get the right information, which I think was part of our issue in prior years,” she said. “They weren’t speaking to us directly. So they weren’t necessarily getting the full scope of what we offered students.”
Ishika Biswas, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said at first she was not familiar with the sexual health programs on campus.
“I feel safe knowing that I have access to sexual health resources and peer advising provided that I need them,” she said.