Universities should offer better sex educationBy Samaria Johnson | 09/28/2014 10:36pm
In the past year, the University quietly updated its nondiscrimination policy to include protections for students’ sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. It also brought Haven, a program that helps students understand sexual violence on campus, to incoming freshmen and transfer students. While colleges across the country continue to struggle to make their campuses a safer environment for students to study and live, these improvements at our own campus indicate progress is still being made. That’s something we all can be proud of.
Still, there’s always more work to be done. Students across the country have committed themselves to peer education, especially when our respective institutions have not adequately provided those resources. For instance, on this campus, resident advisors are barred from giving away condoms to residents, and the Student Health Center, which ought to be the best resource available for students’ sexual health needs, does not distribute them for free either. On that note, every time I bring up receiving sexual health care from the SHC, I receive almost unanimous complaints about how we have been treated poorly and been shamed by health care professionals. There are also continual problems with the way both the University and Tuscaloosa police have handled sexual assault reports and treated those who have reported violence against them, which is especially alarming considering that freshman women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence during their first six weeks on campus. Those are the things we must continue having honest, careful conversations about.
In the meantime, the University should continue its newfound commitment to inclusivity and protection by enacting a fully comprehensive sexual education program for its incoming students. While it may seem redundant to offer college-aged students sex ed, the unfortunate fact is that most of us do not arrive on campus with adequate knowledge of our sexual and reproductive selves and how to care for them. Most of us receive inaccurate, incomplete and misleading information about sexual and reproductive health. We also get little to no knowledge about the wealth of contraceptive and anti-STD methods available to us both over-the-counter and with a prescription. With virtually no information about sexual consent or how to navigate and respect our own personal boundaries and those of others, it cannot reasonably be expected that we are all capable of handling ourselves and our relationships well enough.
For students, college is as much a living space at it is a learning environment. Our university should realize that it has a vested interest in keeping its students safe and healthy in all aspects, including this particular one. Is it awkward? Often. But it’s necessary.
Samaria Johnson is a senior majoring in history. Her column runs biweekly on Mondays.