Over the Spring Semester, three students collaborated with Ohio University's Office of Health Promotion to create a student internship program that focused on re-energizing and re-establishing sexual health work within the department.
The Office of Health Promotion focuses on enhancing, strengthening and supporting students’ well-being with prevention initiatives to reduce harm in students’ lives.
Taylor Bauer, assistant director of pure health, education and empowerment, said the students worked closely with the office to create projects that would better OU students’ sexual health needs.
“We worked together to figure out what some of the feedback that we want to collect from students when it comes to their sexual health needs (and) their barriers,” Bauer said. “What are some of the events and programs we want to launch together as a group to help empower our students and start that conversation about our sexual health needs as a group.”
Initially, the students established relationships with community partners to start conversations about sexual health. The community partners included Planned Parenthood, Equitas Health and Lions Den. The interns then created a survey to collect feedback from other students to guide what events and programs they would want to see around campus.
The students created three different programs involving discussions based on sexual health needs and a sexual health resource fair. The fair had Planned Parenthood, Equitas Health and other organizations talk to students and share resources.
Ann Brandon, associate director of prevention and education, said it is imperative to keep talking to students about sexual health because many college students come to campus with preconceived notions about the topic.
“(Students’) attitudes, beliefs and behaviors have already generally been shaped before they get to college,” Brandon said. “But then college is the first time they might have some freely expressed identity or expand their sexual experiences.”
Brandon said sexual health is not entirely embedded into Ohio high school’s curriculums, and if it is, then it’s usually fear induced discussions that promote only abstinence. She said it’s not normalized to talk about the other side of sexual health, which is how it’s a part of someone’s overall well-being.
“(Sexual health is) a continual conversation. It's very layered and nuanced conversation. It can't be a one size fits all conversation because it's usually heteronormative,” Brandon said. “It's just really important, we do it correctly, we nuance it and that we're a resource, but also that we consistently have healthy and safe messaging around it.”
Molly Wales is a school nurse and teaches multiple sexual health classes for Athens City Schools; she helped create an updated sexual health curriculum that met the needs of all the students within the district.
“I actually initiated the effort to update our sex ed curriculum and worked with a bunch of community members, gynecologists, social workers, counselors and other educators to put together the curriculum we use, Wales said. “We do not use just a boxed curriculum.”
Wales’ students who took her sexual education courses come back to her after college and continuously tell her how no other students received comprehensive sexual education throughout high school.
“There is a ton of lack of information and misinformation because people aren’t getting real-life information in high school,” Wales said. “I think any sexual education at the college level would be tremendously beneficial.”
Being equipped with sexual health information is an essential life skill, Wales said. It’s not about telling students what to believe or do, but it’s about preparing them with information to make safe decisions for themselves, she said.
Both Brandon and Bauer hope to engage more students with the Office of Health Promotion and share its services and resources. The department plans to continue to hold future internship opportunities for interested students.
“We're always open, and we're interested in having more folks come and join us if they're passionate about this work and want to get connected,” Bauer said.