Condom advocacy group celebrates 10 years on campus

Amy Hackbarth

SHADE knows condoms.

The University sexual health program holds entire workshops centered on the sexual protection device. It distributes more than 100,000 free condoms per year. Even its mascot is a nonchalant, smiling condom.

This week, 10 years after the program’s creation, Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education is celebrating the impact it has made on the University campus.

“It’s hard to demonstrate,”
program adviser Dave Dorman said of the program’s success. “But I think we’re getting the conversation started and we’re there to help.”

A nationwide increase of HIV cases on college campuses in the 1980s produced the need for conversations about sexual health. The outbreak inspired educators to create student-oriented sexual health campaigns.

In 1992, University health educators created a more formalized program to teach students about sexual health issues. In its first year, the sexual health program brought information and 4,000 free condoms to students through workshops and spontaneous events.

University graduate Rachel Wolk remembers distributing condoms on campus buses as a senior during the program’s first year.

“I would stand up when the bus was full going from East Bank to West Bank and announce that it was national condom week and I had free condoms for everyone,” said Wolk, now a health educator at the Indigenous Peoples Task Force.

The program hinged on that proactive stance, said former director John Sugimura.

“The backbone to the program is the student peers, so we went in the direction they wanted to go,” he said.

An enthusiastic response from students also fueled progress, Sugimura said.

“People were very interested in getting information, and we were a key source of getting information on campus,” he said.

While the program first concentrated on basic facts about HIV, Dorman said, it now teaches about complex issues with other sexually transmitted diseases. It also focuses on communication between partners.

In its expansion over the years, SHADE drew criticism from University groups that felt the program’s condom distribution encourages students to have sex.

“You can argue that it encourages behavior,” said Dan Nelson, president of the Students for Family Values. “As a group, we advocate abstinence as the only true form of birth control.”

Another University group, the Students for New Life Women’s Center, also encourages abstinence as the only method against pregnancy and disease.

Dorman said he acknowledges many University students choose abstinence. According to a 1998 Boynton Health Service survey, 42 percent have not had sex in the past year.

“People are making the choice to not be sexually active, and that’s certainly a viable strategy,” he said. “But not everyone is doing that.”

To reach sexually active people, Dorman said, the program holds workshops on topics ranging from sexuality to “rubber ware,” and also sends out the SHADE mascots, over-sized male and female condoms.

Sophomore Brooke Jenkins, a SHADE co-coordinator, remembers dressing in the male condom suit for the Homecoming parade.

“Everyone laughed,” she said. “We were handing out condoms. They kind of wanted them from the person in the condom suit.”

SHADE will celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a party and concert at the Weisman Art Museum Friday at 7 p.m.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]