BY ALYSSA DANDREA
For students interested in being tested, several organizations are providing assistance.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, “19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year,” and that nearly 50 percent of all cases are contracted by 15 to 24 year olds.
Shannon Tucker, a representative of Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services (FAHASS), said, “One in four college students has an STD,” a fact confirmed by Stanford University’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center.
Senior Cara MacDonald, president of Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), and the rest of the student-run club are eager to begin the year’s first major event: free HIV testing because of these facts.
VOX Publicity Officer Caroline Benner, a sophomore, is ready to reach out to as many people as she can.
“I want people to be able to talk about this stuff,” Benner said. “If I can help someone make a smart choice, I absolutely want to do it.”
Juliet Taylor, a junior VOX member, is chairing the event and adamantly believes in the importance of HIV testing, especially on a university campus.
“People have kind of forgotten about AIDS and don’t really see it as a danger anymore,” Taylor said. “[This] is not the case at all.”
This year, VOX is working with FAHASS to bring HIV testing days to UMW. FAHASS, a nonprofit organization, provides emotional and educational support to those dealing with the effects of HIV and AIDS.
The first testing day will be Friday Sept. 17 in the Student Health Center.
“We’re really excited to bring HIV testing to the school,” Tucker said. “A lot of students have mentioned a need for it to be available on campus so they don’t have to travel.”
She warned that young people are at highest risk for contracting HIV.
“I see it all the time,” Tucker said. “Students come in thinking they are prepared, but a lot of the information out there can be misleading.”
MacDonald and Taylor expressed their excitement concerning the health center’s collaboration with FAHASS.
“Call-aheads and walk-ins are welcome this Friday,” MacDonald said. “It’s a quick and painless test.”
In lieu of a traditional blood test, students will have their cheek swabbed. The test itself is completely free.
Tucker assures that this method is 99 percent accurate, similar to the blood tests.
In order to accommodate all students, the testing days will continue every third Friday for the rest of the year. FAHASS is also willing to aid anyone who tests positive in whatever way possible.
As chairperson, Taylor said she couldn’t be more thrilled.
“As students here at Mary Wash, we feel safe in our community,” Taylor said. “Having the testing available will only further our feeling of safety and security in our community.”
FAHASS and VOX want to spread the word as much as possible about HIV and the importance of getting tested.
“Getting tested should become a routine thing like getting a check-up,” Tucker said. “Really, the first step to de-stigmatizing HIV is simply talking about it.”
To promote the first HIV test day, members of VOX have a table set up outside the Nest each day of the week leading up to it from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. to answer questions and support the cause.