The Rainbow Center is one of several groups on campus that periodically provides HIV testing, as they did Monday from 5 to 8 p.m. Students were given numbers as they came in and waited to go into a private room where they would get their finger pricked. The test, which checks for HIV as well as Hepatitis C, provided results in roughly 30 minutes. The process in the Rainbow Center is free and relatively private, which is what sets it apart, according to William Malavé, Rainbow Center Secretary.
“Student Health Services does offer HIV testing,” Malavé said. “I don’t want to say that it’s not confidential, but it goes into one’s medical file that there was a test done for that purpose, which can be problematic in the future for some folks.”
Beyond not appearing on medical files, there are other benefits to the privacy the Rainbow Center offers. According to Stephen Feathers, an outreach worker from Perception Programs present on Monday night, college students may not want their parents to find out they got tested, or may not want to deal with insurance, both of which can be avoided by going to the Rainbow Center.
Statistically, according to Feathers, young gay males, particularly men of color, are most likely to contract the disease. Knowing how the HIV epidemic began in the United States, largely within the gay community, this continued prevalence makes HIV testing specifically relevant for the LGBTQ community. The Rainbow Center has been providing HIV testing for over a decade, according to Malavé.
“It’s always been a prominent theme and concern for our community,” Malavé said. Beyond the LGBTQ community, he also said anybody who shares needles “are people who need to be aware and concerned and should know their status.”
Besides being aware of at-risk communities, Malavé also said that knowing how the virus is transmitted is important when determining whether or not to be tested. The virus is transmitted through numerous bodily fluids, but being aware of what sexual actions are conducive for transmission can help a student make their decision.
However, awareness of the disease can’t substitute for being vigilant about protection or getting tested. Things have changed a lot since the 80s when HIV first emerged as a serious threat, and medications have advanced quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean the threat is gone.
“HIV medication is relatively easy,” Feathers said. HIV is treated with a pill once a day, which comes with fewer symptoms than in the past. “The stigma is still there, but a person with HIV has the same life expectancy as a person without HIV.”
That being said, steps forward in treatment have led to steps backward in precautionary measures.
“Treatment as prevention, as well as treatment once affected, has improved so greatly that folks don’t view HIV and AIDs as a terminal illness and because of that, have relaxed perhaps their cautious activities, and so there’s a higher risk,” Malavé said.
There are preventative medications that can prevent transmission of HIV when having unprotected sex, according to Feathers, but he maintained getting tested and knowing one’s status is still important for you and your partner.
“I would encourage others to do the same,” one student said after getting tested. “By getting tested if you know your at risk, you can protect yourself and others.”
Future dates for HIV testing in the Rainbow Center can be found online here.
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.