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ISSUE 117 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/3/2003

Safe sex urged: New vending offers condoms

By Lisa Gulya
Contributing Writer


Friday, October 3, 2003

When students need a snack, they go to the nearest vending machine. But what happens when they want to satisfy their sexual appetites?

Soon, students will be able to find vending for that, too. This past month, St. Olaf decided to make condom machines available on campus.

"This has been an issue for a long time because this is a religiously-affiliated school," said Katie Weber ’04, a nursing major and wellness peer educator.

Last fall, a committee of faculty, staff and two student representatives, including Weber and Dean of Students Greg Kneser, reviewed the college’s health care policies, including the condom policy. Before last fall, condoms were only available through an appointment with the nurse-practitioner or through members of THINC (Today’s Healthy Intercourse Needs Condoms). Since that committee meeting, free condoms have been available without an appointment from Health Services, the Wellness Center or the Counseling Office.

Kneser said the committee spent "a considerable amount of time" discussing the condom issue. He said the main focus was the needs of the students.

Students were facing "bad outcomes from sexual behavior on campus," according to Kneser.

"One of the issues on campus is sexual health," Weber said. "You can’t ignore that."

The problem with the condom policy was that condoms were only available during the day, while "a lot of decisions to engage in high-risk sexual behavior" occurred at night. Although students could go to THINC members’ rooms for condoms, it was not a reliable source because not all students knew where to find members, and THINC members were not always in their rooms.

Weber was also a member of THINC last year. "[Students] are not going to knock on your door and say, ‘Hey, I need a condom.’" So Weber kept condoms and informational pamphlets in an envelope on her door, both of which students took.

The health care committee discussed the shortcomings of the current policy and gave a recommendation for a new policy to President Christopher Thomforde, which he accepted.

The committee realized that students need "after-hours access," Kneser said. Under the new policy, condoms will be available through vending machines in public bathrooms or laundry rooms in residence halls, and in the Pause bathrooms. Students will have to pay for these condoms, but the free condoms from health services, the Wellness Center and counseling will still be available.

"I think it’s a must to have these vending machines," Weber said.

Kneser expects disagreement with the decision, but said, "I respect people who have those opinions. We’re open to criticism on what the moral message of this is." However, he added, "We’re not going to hide them [the condoms]. We’re not ashamed of them. We’re not trying to make a statement, but to provide a service. I’m charged with doing all I can for the health and welfare of our students. Looking at real behavior, [high-risk sex] does occur."

He said that students need to be educated about risk factors and empowered to make mature decisions about sexuality. He said, "This is not a complete solution."

St. Olaf is still working with the vending company to make the new policy a reality. When the machines are installed, residents will be notified via e-mail.

The condom issue at St. Olaf goes back to the 1980s. In March 1986, a proposal to sell condoms was rejected by Dean Carol Johnson on the grounds that St. Olaf did not want to compete with Northfield pharmacies; the Board of Regents also defeated the same proposal, saying they must not condone premarital sex.

In March 1987, over 200 students protested in a Campus Crusade for Condoms (CCC) rally. President George rejected a petition signed by 1600 students for condoms on campus. CCC then opened the "Little Shop of Condoms," a condom delivery service, in April 1987. Meanwhile, Carleton College had eight condom machines.

In November 1994, Carleton sponsored Condoms Across the Cannon. Carleton's HIV/AIDS Awareness group (HAA) allowed Carleton students to send a condom, along with a pamphlet on condom use and a note explaining the types of condoms available at Carleton, to a student at St. Olaf.





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