by Indy Srinath, staff writer
Last Tuesday, instead of assorted chocolates in a scarlet satin box, instead of a glitter coated ‘ode to love’ on a handmade card, instead of a dozen roses or a handful of little chalky heart shaped candies, students decided to give their intimate other a gift you won’t find in a drugstore aisle: a free STI test from the health center.
“Free love is a big part of Warren Wilson, and with free love comes free STDs. Luckily, there is also free STD testing,” said Nathan Allen as he waited in line to receive his complimentary test on the cold, gray Valentine’s Day afternoon. On a campus where the ubiquity and seriousness of STDs and STIs are often blanketed by casual joking, getting tested is even more important, especially on a campus of our size. It is evident during the flu season the rapidity with which illnesses can spread; when this is translated onto the frontier of sexual relationships, the results are even more shocking– and dangerous.
Says Pat Parker, a nurse at the health center, “We tested around 230 students on Valentine’s Day and normally we get students coming in several times a week for STI testing. During the week we don’t provide on-site testing; we send them to the Buncombe County STI clinic where they can get tested for free. The nurses ultimately were the ones who decided to hold the free testing. We partnered with the Center for Health and Human Resources (who held the same testing for UNC Asheville the previous day) and they brought the necessary equipment and staff and we provided the health center as a space for testing. They also donated to us a lot of informative pamphlets that we have put in the waiting room.”
While some individuals took Valentine’s Day to sift through a rainbow of sappy cards and stuffed animals that sing 80s love ballads, students were pocketing free condoms and perusing pamphlets at the health center as they waited in line to receive their free STI test. While it may seem a little less romantic than a candle lit dinner for two, getting tested allows you to give the gift of respect (a virtue just as important as amity) to yourself, your partner(s) and the community.
Just because you have a ‘friend with benefits’ does not mean you should give them the benefit of the doubt. STDs and STIs can affect anyone; it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but something to be aware of. Says Michael Carter who also took the time to get tested on Valentine’s Day, “It’s great that our school offers free testing. Most schools aren’t this open about STDs. I got tested last year on Valentine’s Day too. It’s nice that our community doesn’t ignore this problem, but instead directly assesses it.”
When the health center isn’t busy testing the campus for STIs, they are working on a new project called Safe Space, which is “a program where people can meet and discuss important issues such as STIs, bullying, or relationships,” says Pat Parker.
While it may be tempting to forgo getting tested because of fear of infection, lack of time, or because you don’t like the idea of tests, it’s just as important as taking a test in your environmental science class– getting tested proves that you are in good shape and ready to move on to new material. Or maybe it proves that you have successfully completed your course work and can continue with the same material. Whichever way you look at it, getting tested is an act of compassion and generosity. No roses, no candies, no perfume spritzed letters will ever be quite as romantic as the phrase, “I’m clean!”