by Selena Simmons-Duffin
In late September, the Stanford Daily published an article concerning a survey on college sexual health resources commissioned by Trojan Condoms. The article noted that Stanford had dropped 37 places since the survey was conducted last year, and discussed how this new rating reflected on the SHPRC. As a three year SHPRC counselor, I thought it might be worth raising some questions about what this study tells us and what it does not about the quality of our sexual health services at Stanford.
First of all, Trojan should be commended for acting to keep colleges accountable for the quality of their sexual health. However, there are some logical inconsistencies with the assessment of the survey results. Bert Sperling, of the research firm that conducted the finding, said, “The top-ranking schools made significant improvements to their programming—due in part, we hope, to last year’s study results—and they deserve to be commended.” However, the great discrepancies in scores led the researchers to note that, “The 2007 Sexual Health Report Card examined 139 schools, nearly 50 percent more than last year, and judged several categories not taken into consideration last year, resulting in different rankings.” What is the constant here? If the sample size and criteria has changed, how much can movement in the rankings really say about the school’s sexual health services?
In the Daily article, one of the postulates for why our ranking would have dropped in comparison to other schools was the fact that we do not offer condoms for free. This decision—whether or not to give or sell health services—is actually the subject of some debate. Two reasons that come to mind for charging for condoms are 1) People are more likely to value something they have invested in and put it to use 2) The subsidy system is more sustainable. In other words, if we relied on University funds to pay for our supplies, there is the possibility that shifts in allocation could put the whole program in jeopardy. Through the subsidy system, the SHPRC has functioned for some 20 years as a self-sufficient, self-sustaining group. Trojan “graded” schools on topics like this, assigning certain decisions an arbitrary value, which does not do justice to the careful consideration and situational pressures that go into the decision making process.
It is also worth noting that the Trojan corporation has its own agenda for conducting this kind of study. The press release for the study made this very clear, noting that Trojan is “America’s #1” in the condom industry, and inserting a plug for their new marketing campaign that was released in conjunction with the study results. (On a side note, the SHPRC does not carry Trojan condoms because of the fact that many of them use nonoxyl-9, an ingredient in spermicide which has been shown to increase the chance of transmission of certain STIs for women.)
Although I was unable to find the actual data that explained how the SHPRC ranked, I can think of a number of reasons why the study could have underrepresented what we do. First, many of our educational outreach programs (with freshmen dorms, high school groups, etc) are handled between the requesting party and us, meaning that perusing the website would not have given a full sense of the amount of educating we do. Second, although the SHPRC offers peer counseling, a selection of books, condoms, lube and massage oil (and now pregnancy tests!), we also work in coordination with HIV*PACT, YWCA, the Center for Relationship Abuse, Vaden STI testing, Health Promotion Services, the PHEs, etc. Our presence in the Stanford community is thus much greater than our little office (or a perusal of our website) may suggest.
I am not trying to suggest, of course, that there is not room for improvement of the SHPRC. In the past few months we’ve completely redone our website, streamlined the library loan system, increased our hours of operation to Monday-Friday, noon-6pm (30 hours a week, up from 25 in previous years), started doing trainings on breast and testicular cancer self-exams, and begun to offer pregnancy tests. We are continuously working to improve our services, and we’re always open to suggestions.
Selena can be found most days shuffling through the SHPRC’s candy bowl for snickers, but if you’d rather not hunt her down, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org