UM drops in sexual health rankings

The University of Miami dropped three spots to No. 59 on the Trojan Condoms’ list of sexually healthy campuses.

Each year, independent research firm Sperling’s BestPlaces analyzes the resources and information available to students on 140 campuses nationwide. The data is collected through student health center representatives, and secondary research on those centers and the student body.

“It is all about sexual health and awareness,” said Bert Sperling, the study’s researcher. “It is not measuring how healthy students are because that information isn’t available and comparable. It is about the availability of sexual resources and information so students can make the right choices for themselves.”

UM remains behind other schools in Florida such as the University of Florida, which is ranked No. 8, and Florida Atlantic University, which is ranked No. 53.

The criteria evaluated in the study includes sexual health awareness programs, contraceptive availability and the opportunity for students to receive anonymous advice. It also took into account the student opinion of the health center and if it offered HIV and STI testing.

There are many student organizations that work to promote sexual health on campus. Organizations include Vox, which raises awareness about sexual health and reproduction rights, and A Week 4 Life, which educates students on issues relating to HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. A Week 4 Life hosts events such as Sex on the Beach, which is a discussion about reproductive health, and participates in AIDS Walk Miami.

In addition to student organizations, UM’s Student Health Center performs HIV and STI tests, but doesn’t have the option of oral tests. Some students, however, would prefer an oral test rather than getting their blood drawn. Free condoms are also available at the front desk.

“People dread the basket because it is right there in the front and it doesn’t have a lot of variability,” said senior Ryan Walker, who is a chair of A Week 4 Life. “Perhaps they could put it at the computer desk where you make appointments where people won’t see you take them.”

However, condoms are not currently available in the dorms.

“They should have a basket in the bathroom or something of that nature,” Walker said.

Another measure the university can take to improve its ranking is a mandatory online course for sexual health similar to its alcohol education course.

Colleges that made the top 10 ranking took advantage of social media and online websites to raise awareness.

The Student Health Center website has a component with different sexual health resources. The researchers looked at the website’s usability and functionality.

“We didn’t see anything about HIV testing on the website as far as what services were available, what the cost was, where it was done and when you would receive the results,” Sperling said.

Columbia, which was ranked No. 1, has a website called Go Ask Alice, where students can write in questions or comments anonymously.

“Other campuses have students write in anonymously and a professor answers it – not just for the student but for the other thousands of students in the school who might have the same question,” Sperling said.

While the university has expanded its resources through Facebook, the UM Sexual Health Community Advisory Board page on Facbeook only has 18 likes.

“It is not that engaged with the students,” Walker said. “They need to put the word out.”

Florida was the state that had the nation’s second highest reported AIDS diagnoses in 2009, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

“People don’t understand that Miami is one of the cities that has the highest HIV rate,” Walker said.

The study, which has been conducted for the sixth year, has motivated universities to take its “sexual health report card” and learn what it can improve on.

“It is making a big impact on students,” Sperling said. “We have seen students take the results of the study, go to the administration, and use it as a tool to say that they are not doing as well as they could and that things could change.”