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UCF ranks 91 in Trojan's sexual health report card

By Laura Newberry
On November 5, 2011

UCF has failed the Trojan sexual health report card a second year in a row, and changes are being made to university health programs as a result.

UCF ranked 91 out of 141 U.S. colleges, climbing three spots from 94 in 2010.

The study's lead researcher, Bert Sperling, said that the better ranking might be a reflection of new implements in UCF sexual health programs.

The study scores are not based upon the actual sexual health of the student body; all the universities' sexual health resources were analyzed, rather, and given ranking in categories such as "availability of HIV testing" and "outreach programs for sexual health issues."

"We're not medical experts and wouldn't want to tell health center experts how to do their job," Sperling said.

Director of Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Programs Tom Hall said that he has taken the Trojan report card score into consideration as the sexual health programs at UCF are being restructured.

"I don't know that our services need to be improved, but we certainly need to look and find out why we're consistently ranking in the 90's," Hall said.

The University of Florida ranked eight out of 141, a substantially better score than UCF. Hall said that the UCF sexual health coordinators are looking into UF's methods of conveying sexual awareness to its students.

In contrast, Florida State University ranked below UCF at 110.

UCF received a 10 out of 10 in the "condoms" category, up from last year's score of seven. Abigail Malick, the sexual health coordinator for the Wellness Center, said that the university gives out about 10,000 condoms every three months via the gym, the Health Center and the Counseling Center.

The university scored a nine for the hours that the Health Center is open, but received a six in the "drop-in/appointment" category. Sperling said that it's important for universities to encourage drop-ins to the Health Center so students feel comfortable coming to health care professionals with their questions about sex.

"If we allowed walk-in appointments, students would be waiting for two hours for appointments," UCF health services spokeswoman Megan Pabian said. "We used to have them, and students were getting very upset with the long wait."

Malick, who was specifically hired at the Wellness Center at the beginning of the semester to improve the sexual health programs on campus, said that she is working with graduate students as well as undergraduate students to increase sexual awareness on campus.

Hall said that the UCF Wellness Center has contacted the colleges that ranked in the top 10 spots of the report card to see how they run their sexual health programs.

One program that's being looked into for UCF is an anonymous, online health "Q&A" section on the university's website where students can submit their sexual inquiries and receive educated feedback. The idea is borrowed from a website called "Go Ask Alice" designed by Columbia University, who has received the No. 1 ranking in the study two years in a row.

UCF scored a four out of 10 in the "anonymous advice" category of the report card as a result of its current lack of such a system.

"Sexuality has always been a topic that evokes all sorts of emotions. Unfortunately, some of that is shame," Hall said. "There is a hesitancy talking about sexual health for fear of disapproval, and having some way of communication anonymously is a good strategy to prevent that."

UCF has also borrowed ideas from UF, such as the "health huts" that have become visible in different locations on campus four days a week since the beginning of the fall 2011 semester. The huts are run by undergraduate students who facilitate interactive activities in an attempt to effectively communicate sexual health principles to their peers. Hall said that nearly 3,000 students have stopped by the huts over the past two months of their operation.

However, UCF received a 3 1/2 out of 10 in the "student peer groups" category of the report card. The score is based on the sexual health resources provided in 2010, so the health huts could not be taken into consideration during study analysis.

Another big leap for the university's sexual health program as a consequence of the poor Trojan report card scoring is free HIV testing. Students can now get tested free of charge in the Health Center, an initiative that is to be officially announced on World Aids Day, which is Dec. 1.

Malick said they are also looking into decreasing the cost of sexually transmitted infection testing.

Student development graduate assistant Nicole Owens is currently constructing surveys that will gauge the sexual health needs of UCF students.

"We want to see students' attitudes and behaviors toward unprotected sex and their perception of the university's efforts to provide them with the information they need to make healthy decisions," Owens said.

The Wellness Center would also like to provide more support for on-campus groups that advocate the importance of sexual health such as the National Organization of Women.

Malick said she has been given the ultimate task of coming up with a five-year plan to bump UCF's sexual health score from an "F" to an "A."

"If we're making intentional and thoughtful changes, we believe it's possible to make that happen in just five years," Malick said.

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