This week, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender – Straight Alliance at UNC Chapel Hill held a discussion about the state of testing for Sexually Transmitted Infections at UNC. Currently students at UNC can receive a blood test for HIV free of charge. The test results take two weeks to return from the lab. This is the only test that Campus Health and Wellness administers free of charge. Other tests, from an instant oral swab for HIV to Chlamydia, cost anywhere from $20-$60. Many of our peer institutions, including the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin provide STI testing to their students free of charge.
Should all STI testing be free? Several arguments were discussed and analyzed. A representative from Campus Health and Wellness explained that the message they have received from administrators at Health and Wellness is that the services they provide free of charge are services that all students can take advantage of. All students have a number of free counseling sessions, and basic meetings with doctors are covered. Above and beyond that, services that an individual student and their medical provider decide they need, such as X-rays, require students to pay at least a portion of the costs. Providing STI testing free of charge would require students to pay more in student fees, and not all students are sexually active, thus we are requiring some students to pay for a service that they will not use.
In reality, we have plenty of student fees that not everyone takes advantage of. Students at UNC pay fees that keep the gym and fitness center operating, and provide for free tickets to athletic events and theatrical performances. Student fees pay for a diverse range of speakers throughout the year, and students are able to attend these events free of charge. While I appreciate all of these services, some of my peers have never set foot in the gym, or they have no interest in attending an artistic piece. Last year the students voted to increase funding to support a childcare initiative for students with children. I am unlikely to benefit from this service, yet I don’t resent paying for it because I benefit from plenty of student fees that students with children may not.
When it comes down to it, what we choose to pay for through student fees is symbolic of what services we choose to value. At UNC we value the arts, fitness, and we definitely value athletics. At this time, we don’t value testing our students for sexually transmitted infections. Not paying for all STI testing reinforces the taboo of getting tested and unfortunately, makes students less likely to get tested. Making people pay money does not discipline or force people to be abstinent; it causes them to forgo testing.