There are many false impressions surrounding getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases that prevent people who have not been properly educated, especially students, from deciding to get tested. Since these misunderstandings are especially damaging to people’s health when they have contracted serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, University of Rhode Island students have come together from both PR classrooms and the LGBTQ Center to promote testings and spread awareness.
“I work under Annie Russell and I work to do the AIDS and HIV testing here, it’s my position this year.” said Tyler Conlan, a sophomore in his second semester at URI, who is with running the event with the LGBTQ Center.
Conlan became interested in the position because he values the opportunity that the testings present for students. He believes it is important for anyone to be able to get tested with confidentiality so that they can feel comfortable.
“This position is not only about [testing] it’s about informing people, getting the information out,” said Conlan, “and it’s also about confidentiality with the students about those subjects, in case a student might want to talk to me about it.”
Many college students do not get tested for HIV/AIDS, even when AIDS Project Rhode Island provides free testing on campuses. Some are worried that the tests will be physically invasive and others worry about their privacy. But the students who are running this event understand these concerns and are trying to spread awareness to relieve uncertainties.
“A lot of students don’t know the nature of these tests sometimes and a lot of people are really scared to get tested, especially if it’s not confidential,” said Conlan. “But the fact that we have a test running where we do just a cheek-swab and nothing with blood or anything like that I believe is very inviting for the students to come and experience.”
Armando Aguirre, a freshman at URI, heard about the testing through some of the chalk signs around campus and decided to get tested.
“It ran pretty smoothly,” said Aguirre. “In terms for me to get called I thought it was going to take longer… I haven’t been tested since like February, so [it’s] just a check-up.”
Aguirre was told it would only take about 15 minutes to get his results back, and he noted that the process had been quick and simple.
“[It’s] just a swab around the gums and that’s it,” Aguirre said.
The event would not have been possible without the collaboration of multiple volunteers, including the students who were involved. Volunteers from AIDS Project Rhode Island performed the testings themselves, and have repeatedly come back to help out with testings.
“There are people working here from the center that are helping run it but everybody else who is providing the rooms, the services and the people testing are all volunteers, they’re all giving their time,” Conlan said.
Conlan himself did not have any prior experience with or knowledge of testings. He attributes this to the general problem that many college-age students have not been educated on testings.
“Last semester I saw them doing testing here, [but] I wasn’t familiar with any kind of testing environments prior,” said Conlan, “probably because not a lot of people are educated about them in the first place. So we are here today to provide testing for those students.”
In addition to a lack of education, many students feel that they are not part of a demographic who needs to get tested based on historical misconceptions about STDS, specifically HIV/AIDS.
“[One of] the misconceptions is that everybody thinks it’s just a gay disease,” Conlan said. “But anybody can get it. So it’s important for anyone to get tested, not just people who identify as certain sexualities.”