By Simon Isham–
The results of the University of Louisville’s annual sexual health assessment are finally in, and they came back positive. This year’s Trojan Sexual Health Report Card ranked U of L in 18th place, up two spots from 2011 and 64 spots from 2010.
The report card is sponsored by the manufacturers of Trojan condoms and is compiled by Oregon-based rankings and research firm Sperling’s BestPlaces, which has been rating sexual health at universities across the United States for seven years. In the 2012 edition of the report, the University of Louisville was pitted against 141 other universities with students representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
This report cycle, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign came out on top, displacing Columbia University as sexual health valedictorian among their peers. Ivy League schools like Columbia, which ranked 3rd this year, are traditional contenders for high rankings in the report; Brown University placed 2nd, Princeton placed 4th and Yale weighed in at 6th on the 2012 report.
At the bottom of the list were Providence College at 139, Brigham Young University at 140. For the first time in school history, the U.S. Air Force Academy took last place at number 141.
Bert Sperling, lead researcher at Sperling’s BestPlaces, said of the Academy “It was very difficult to get information from them as a matter of policy. We were forced to look at everything through their website, most of which was behind a firewall … Last place was the appropriate rank for something like that. Brigham Young also … chose not to provide very much information to their students. For example, they provided the information that sex between unmarried students is inappropriate and that it is not their responsibility to worry about (their own sexual health).”
The report is based on 11 pieces of information about the student health centers on campus. Universities can garner a better ranking by: maintaining longer office hours; allowing students to drop-in for consultations; providing quality sexual health information; providing free contraceptives and condoms; providing free, on-site testing for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and other sexually transmitted infections; promoting lectures, outreach programs and student peer groups that deal with sexual health education; providing services for victims of sexual assault and having a user-friendly website.
A university’s resources and services are ranked on a four-point scale in each category, with the average of these sub-scores making up that university’s sexual health GPA. For example, 2012 second place winner Brown University was ranked with a sexual health GPA of 3.51, whereas the last place finisher U.S. Air Force Academy finished with a GPA of 0.9. In comparison, the University of Louisville’s GPA was 3.2.
A team of five researchers gathered sexual health resources from each of the participating universities both by telephone and over the Internet.
“Schools that did well in this year’s report card tended to score uniformly high across all categories, while those ranked towards the bottom were less consistent in category grades,” said Sperling.
Compared to other Kentucky universities, U of L is well ahead of the competition. Ranked at number 36, the University of Kentucky is slowly moving up, as is the main campus of Bowling Green University, which is currently ranked at number 69. Western Kentucky University is down 12 spots from last year, placing at number 59.
Stacie Steinbock, the Sexual Health Advisor at the university’s Office of Health Promotion, said of the rankings, “I’m thrilled that Trojan’s Report Card is taking notice of the changes we are making at U of L. I think it is notable that we have risen from 82nd to 18th in only 3 years, largely due to the tremendous efforts of the Health Promotion office. And we’re not done yet—we’re going for number one!”
Steinbock, who holds a Masters in Human Sexuality Education, was hired as Sexual Health Advisor two years ago. It was then that the Office of Health Promotion began offering free, on-campus testing for HIV and syphilis.
One of the more recent services that the Office of Health Promotion has developed is a line of sexual health education and outreach programs based on a nationally acclaimed curriculum called “Our Whole Lives”, which is published by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Office of Health Promotion stated that the programs include not only STI and pregnancy prevention lessons, but also talk about clear communication, healthy relationships, anatomy, pleasure, and gender-specific sexual health concerns.
In order to reach the climax of the Trojan Sexual Health Report card in coming years, the Office of Health Promotion has developed a detailed plan. Steinbock said that the office would like to have more active and honest conversations and programs on campus, “so that students will indeed use the excellent services provided at our Campus Health Services such as Gardasil vaccinations for men and women, contraceptives and STI testing. Ideally, we would integrate our Sexual Health Advisor directly into the medical center to provide more sexual health counseling to students.
“We’d like to support an active educational culture around sexual health, particularly with our Housing colleagues, and diverse student groups such as international students. We’d also like to provide more anonymous sexual health advice options, such as an email, phone or text option.”
The Office of Health Promotion is located in the Student Services Annex between Houchens and the Student Activities Center. HIV and syphilis testing is available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday; according to their website, the Center for Disease Control recommends yearly HIV testing for anyone between the ages of 13 and 65. Free condoms are available in the center’s waiting rooms, with non-latex and female condoms available upon request. The HPV vaccine Gardasil is available by prescription at the office. Pap testing can be done by appointment, as can emergency contraception.
Additionally, Sexual Health Advisors are able to provide free, confidential decisions about any of the services that the office provides. The office can also help connect students to off-campus options who offer a variety of sexual health services at cost.
Sperling’s Best Places found that U of L had exemplary education programs on male contraceptives, peer groups, and STD testing, though they suggested that Campus Health Services could improve their services by extending their office hours and days, encouraging drop-ins, providing more information on female contraceptives, and improving the information and organization of the sexual health awareness website, as well as improving the website’s general usability.
Sperling qualified, “But with a rank of 18, there’s not a lot that you folks can do to improve.”
Photo: Rea Hodge/The Louisville Cardinal