Recently, I took the opportunity to test myself for the presence of human immunodeficiency virus, commonly known as HIV, in my body. I did this not with any real fear that I would receive a positive result, but rather with an attitude of agnosticism, assuming that until I actually received a result that I did not have any clue as to whether it would be positive or negative. In reality, I was certain my result would be negative. I know how HIV is transmitted, and more importantly, I know how to prevent HIV transmission.
On a personal level, as a Mississippian, this is especially important knowledge to have, since Mississippi ranks seventh in the nation for HIV/AIDS prevalence. We are home to nearly 100,000 HIV-infected individuals, and with a population just shy of three million, this means that about one out of every 33 people are infected with the virus. Compare this to national statistics, where the virus affects one out of every 300 people.
So why isn’t this something we talk more about in Mississippi? More importantly, why isn’t this something, as Mississippi’s flagship university, we talk about on campus?
Unsurprisingly, it just so happens that some people are, in fact, trying to encourage this kind of discourse, and I had the pleasure of meeting of one of them. She talked about how she and others have worked tirelessly to push pamphlets and distribute condoms (for both males and females) across campus. Currently, condoms are available on campus either in the Health Center for free or in the P.O.D. for purchase. Educational pamphlets are available only in the former.
Before I make my next point, let’s take a step back. Before you came to Ole Miss, you had to send in a record of your immunizations. You may have even had to receive some. That’s because on a campus where over 20,000 students and employees brush shoulders on a daily basis, the implications for maintaining health safety become vast and complex, and immunizations are a necessity for preventing the spread of some awful illnesses (yes, vaccinations are essential, and no, they do not cause autism), so we can acknowledge that the task of promoting and maintaining student and employee health on campus is vital (and probably quite extensive).
My question is this: When it comes to educating our students and employees about viruses such as HIV and herpes, which can’t be vaccinated against, why do we fall short? Unlike their sexually transmitted bacterial counterparts, HIV and herpes can’t be cured (save for those two infants at UMMC in Jackson). With respect to these facts, it seems that, ideally, we should be overwhelmed with posters, pamphlets, and prophylactics in constantly populated areas such as the Union, the library, and by far most importantly, the residence halls.
And let me emphasize this last location — we should have free condoms and pamphlets in the residence halls. We should have free condoms and pamphlets in the residence halls. Am I tired of saying it yet? No, because we should have free condoms and pamphlets in the residence halls.
It seems like a no-brainer. Why would we even risk higher rates of STD transmission? On a related note, why would we risk any unwanted pregnancies? Yes, it is a no-brainer. So why don’t we have free condoms and pamphlets in the residence halls?
Because we live in a state where traditional sexual practices are valued highly and abstinence as an ultimate form of birth control and disease prevention is literally preached. And to give advocates for abstinence credit where it is due, this is true. Furthermore, abstinence advocacy is no problem of ours. However, problems do arise when abstinence seems to become a policy, because the fact is that abstinence is not right for everyone. Can everyone practice it? Yes, of course. But that doesn’t mean that they should or should have to, especially when free condoms are almost stupidly easy to come by for certain departments on campus, which, by the way, are more than willing to distribute them in residence halls free of charge.
Just to make myself clear, none of this is to condemn anyone who practices or advocates for abstinence as a form a birth control and/or disease prevention. However, I do criticize those who think it better to keep alternative methods of birth control and disease prevention as well as information regarding STDs and pregnancy out of the hands of students, especially at an institution where education, self-development, and public impact is essentially our entire premise.
In conclusion, I challenge our university to adapt to the behaviors of our students and respond to the needs of our state in a meaningful and proactive way. Furthermore, I encourage all of us to to continue to re-evaluate our traditionally-held beliefs, with our judgement from others, and adopt an attitude of awareness and rationality, especially with concern to this matter. Such changes could mean the difference between “positive” and “negative” for so many people.
Reid Black is a sophomore biochemistry and philosophy major from Pascagoula.