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ISSUE 121 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/25/2008

HIV tests provided

By Annie Ashby
Associate Editor

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last week the Gender and Sexuality Center was determined to spread condoms -- flavored, studded, colored or endowed with numbing gel for prolonged pleasure -- along with awareness about HIV infection to a broad sector of the student body.

The GSC brought HIV Testing and STI screening to St. Olaf for the first time on Apr. 11, drawing more students than expected to receive testing.

GSC member Mara Calvert '09 was the director of HIV testing day.

"[HIV testing] is not only a service, but it raises awareness," Calvert said. "When people walk by these millions of different kinds of condoms, we hope they take some and learn something about sexual health."

The confidential HIV testing was provided by Rural Action AIDS Network (RAAN) and was free to both the individual and the school.

"We [the GSC] brought HIV testing to St. Olaf because there is no free or confidential testing in the area," Calvert said. Otherwise, "You would have to go all the way to the Twin Cities, and the testing would leave a record on your insurance."

Another concern of Calvert's was a survey of St. Olaf students showing that two-thirds of students use protection during sex most of the time.

"That's not even all of the time," Calvert said. "So we knew Oles were not having safe sex. These two factors motivated us to bring testing to campus."

The event was so popular that an additional day of testing was added on Friday, April 18. Volunteer Katherine Oyster '08 explained the need for a second testing day.

"Last week we had to start turning people away," Oyster said. "We were out of time slots and actually ran out of tests, so the case manager offered to come back this Friday."

Between the two testing days, 58 people were administered HIV tests.

"We were hoping the testing would be successful, but we had a greater turnout then we ever expected," Oyster said. "It's important to realize that people take the test for many different reasons: for example, if they're going abroad. It's not just for risky sexual behavior."

Testing was administered in confidential meeting rooms in Buntrock on a walk-in basis. The testing procedure involved the non-invasive OraQuick Antibody Test, an oral swab HIV test that determines results within 20 minutes. Self Risk-Assessment forms for HIV infection or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were also available.

"Some people would walk out [of the testing room] and say 'Yay! I don't have AIDS!' -- just to announce it," Calvert said.

However, extensive counseling was available through RAAN before and after HIV test results for any parties who had concerns about the test.

The GSC hopes to make HIV testing and STI screening day an annual event at St. Olaf. They also aspire to bring in more extensive testing to cover a variety of STIs.

"I think this year the GSC is working harder and making more headway than in past years," Oyster said. "Of course some people walk by our tables with their blinders on, but we've gotten lots more positive feedback."

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