Student Health to distribute free condoms


Pitt's Student Health Services now offers condoms free of charge in their office. Terry Tan | Staff Illustrator.

By Casey Schmauder / Staff Writer

Falling in line with the Centers for Disease Control and its partners in the ACC, Pitt said it will offer its students free condoms in the Student Health Center by the end of the semester.

Pitt’s Student Health Center told Student Government Board’s Wellness Committee on Oct. 27, that it hopes to increase the availability of free condoms for students by placing a bowl of condoms in its waiting room. According to Marian Vanek, director of Student Health Service, the Health Center hopes to have the condoms available by the end of the semester.

Pitt’s Student Health Center plans to provide educational materials along with all safe sex materials. Vanek said the Student Health Center has an obligation to supply preventive medicine to students, condoms included.

“As health care providers, we have a responsibility to encourage use of condoms and other safe sex products for students who choose to be sexually active,” Vanek said.

Student groups on campus such as Campus Women’s Organization and Rainbow Alliance have advocated for free condoms on campus for the past several years before Vanek and the Wellness Committee began working independently on the initiative.

The CDC encourages distributing free condoms to fight against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. According to Vanek, until now, doctors at Student Health distributed condoms in exam rooms and to patients, and Pantherwell, Pitt’s peer health education program, distributed them at its events.

However, student organizations — such as CWO and Rainbow Alliance — wanted free condoms to be more accessible to students who do not attend Pantherwell events or schedule appointments with Student Health, according to Sandra Saba, CWO vice president. 

In September, SGB member Jack Heidecker contacted Jasmine Butler, committee chair of SGB Wellness Board, and Steve Caucci, president of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force’s Student Ambassadors, about increasing condom availability for students. The three began doing benchmark research and drafting a petition to get free condoms available in a bowl in the Student Health Center lobby. In late October, however, Ethan Baker, chair of the Student Health Advisory Board, a student group that acts as a liaison between Student Health Service and the student body, told Heidecker that Vanek had already begun the initiative.

“After a couple of meetings with Jack about this initiative, we realized that it had already been passed,” Caucci said. “Student Health did this independently, unbeknownst to [Heidecker] or I. But this was something that we wanted done, so we’re very happy.” 

Vanek said she is still searching for an  inconspicuous location inside the waiting room so students don’t feel awkward taking them.

Of the 15 schools in the ACC — Pitt’s athletic conference — only five, including Pitt, do not currently provide free condoms in either health service centers or a student center outside of appointment or specific program. Boston College and Notre Dame University choose not to distribute free condoms because doing so contradicts their Catholic values, according to Paul J. Chebator, Boston College’s dean of students, and Stephen Wandor, vice president of communications for Notre Dame’s Right to Life Club. The other three — Pitt, Virginia Tech and University of Virginia — do not provide free condoms but sell condoms at discounted rates in their student pharmacies and health service centers.

Currently, Pitt’s pharmacy sells Trojan and Lifestyle condoms at a steep discount — a 12-pack of Trojan-ENZ Lubricated condoms costs $4.50 at the University Pharmacy as opposed to $12.49 at the Rite Aid on Forbes Avenue. Previously, only certain student organizations and student-led programs, such as Pantherwell’s “Sex in the Lounge,” distributed free condoms.

Rainbow Alliance president Marcus Robinson, whose club gives out approximately 1,000 free condoms a year, said he was proud of the work CWO has done to achieve this initiative and the University for listening to the students.

“I think the University is just trying to figure out how to better meet the needs of the students,” Robinson said. “I think it’s great that the University is taking steps toward promoting safer sex.”

CWO, an organization that also provides free condoms in its office and at its events, has advocated for free condoms in the Student Health Center for the past two years, according to Suzy Hinkle, CWO president.

Saba explained that the sixth floor of the union — where its office is located — does not get nearly the same traffic as the Student Health Center.

“We support people in their decisions, and we want students to be able to make decisions about what happens to their own bodies,” Saba said. “We want students to be able to have the resources to protect themselves from illness.”

In 2013, Boston College made papers, namely The New York Times, when they refused student groups the right to distribute free condoms, citing violations against the university’s Catholic principles.

Michael Nichols, h2o staff member and missionary,  said while Evangelists such as himself do not condone premarital sex, he does think the availability of free condoms will change the current practices of students.

“I don’t think that withholding free condoms from students is a significant deterrent to sex,” Nichols said. “I don’t think that’s the issue. I think for most evangelicals, the issue of sex outside of marriage in general is a bigger issue than condom use.”

Similarly, Bobbi Perkins, University minister at Cornerstone, said although the Bible does not permit sex outside of marriage, she would want students who are having sex to have access to free condoms.

“While we would obviously advocate for abstinence if you’re not married, if you are going to have sex, then condom use is for the common good because they prevent STDs and early pregnancy,” Perkins said.

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