by Melody Groben

 The University of Rhode Island is filled with thousands of students, hundreds of organizations, a plethora of intelligent staff members and a beautiful campus. But just like every other university, it is affected by sexually-transmitted infections and diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the end of 2015 an estimated 60,300 youth ages 15 to 24 were living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the United States. Within this population, 51 percent (31,000) of youth were living with undiagnosed HIV and were unaware of their HIV positive status. This proportion of the population accounts for the highest rate of undiagnosed HIV in any age group.

 During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States endured the terrible effects of HIV as millions of individuals passed away from the complications of AIDS. Although we have made progress with treating the virus, millions of people are still affected by HIV/AIDS today. Unlike popular belief, HIV/AIDS is still a concern in the United States and more attention needs to be paid towards its prevention, testing, education and treatment.

Throughout this piece, I will outline steps that any URI student can follow in order to become more aware about HIV/AIDS. First, the University of Rhode Island has many services available to students who are concerned about their sexual health. Services are provided at Health Services, and education and support can be found at the Gender and Sexuality Center. The Gender and Sexuality Center also provides students with free condoms, which are essential to use when practicing safe sex and when avoiding the contraction of STI/STDs.

Next, you can take a URI course that covers the content of HIV/AIDS. Last semester I took the course HPR 411, “Emerging Infectious Disease in Global Nations,” taught by Dr. LeBrun, and this semester I am in HPR 392, “AIDS in America,” instructed by Dr. Murphy. Both classes have enlightened me to the history of HIV/AIDS and its impact on the population. Today, I have a greater understanding of HIV/AIDS and have become an advocate for helping those affected by the disease.

Thirdly, you can listen to URI honors student Sara LiVecchi’s podcast “Pick Up The Slack.”  In her first episode, she discusses sexual health and HIV/AIDS in Rhode Island and interviews Dr. Phil Chan from the Miriam Hospital HIV/STD Clinic and Mikel Wadewitz from AIDS Project Rhode Island. LiVecchi’s podcast brings attention to the issues URI students could be focusing more on and is accessible on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Next, you can attend one of the sexual health events available on campus. If you are interested in learning your HIV status, then there is a free, anonymous HIV testing event that is taking place in the Potter building of Health Services. This testing event will be on April 24 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and is provided by the organization, AIDS Project Rhode Island. Also, there will be an HIV/AIDS and Safe Sex Education Fair on the quad from 2-6 p.m. on the same day. Multiple organizations from on and off campus will be present to educate the students on awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS and the event will include raffles, games and giveaways.

If HIV/AIDS and other STI/STDs are impacting the lives of thousands of college students nationwide, then why are so many students unaware of their sexual health status? Maybe in addition to thinking big, URI students need to start thinking smart. I encourage all students to follow one of the steps I have previously mentioned, to become an active member in protecting their own sexual health and to remember that April is STD Awareness Month.