Free STI testing to roll out next week at Engemann

A flurry of activity — from STI testing to petting puppies — is about to take place starting with the Wellness Week on Monday. 

Sponsored by the Undergraduate Student Government’s Committee on Wellness Affairs, Wellness Week will provide students with the opportunity to visit various booths to “enhance” their physical, mental, spiritual and sexual health. One booth will feature a “Love Letter Tree” where students can write love letters to themselves. 

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There will also be events for students on the Health Sciences Campus, such as Pink’s Hot Dogs at Pappas Quad. Medical professionals, counselors, confidential advocates and violence prevention educators will be at the event to answer all student questions. 

The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services will be tabling at Student Union for their “Valentine’s Values.” Through jars filled with different Hershey’s Kisses, students will learn about what they value in their relationships.

Additionally, the Student Wellbeing Index Survey will open up for responses starting Feb. 20. It is separate from the Culture Journey survey as it will focus on “student experiences and outcomes.”

“If I’m being honest, I don’t know how much those surveys do,” said O Warwick, a sophomore majoring in popular music performance. “But I do think that it’s a pretty good culture here on campus. It’s gotten a lot better than it was maybe 10 years ago … there were some issues with the frats and misogyny and stuff like that.”

In addition to these Valentine’s Day-themed events, USG and the Graduate Student Government have collaborated to provide funding for a month of free STI testing called “Test Fest.” All USC students, regardless of whether or not they have the Student Health Insurance Plan, are eligible to receive free STI testing and the pilot program will run from Feb. 10 to March 30. 

“I think it’s great,” said Zifei Zhang, a senior majoring in journalism. “More people should get STI testing and that there shouldn’t be any stigma around getting tested. I mean, it’s a healthy and right thing to do.”

Students can pick up self-directed testing kits through the Engemann Student Health Center and the Cohen Student Health Center. Zhang said it’s good the University gives students three free therapy sessions.  

“It’s very complicated once you want to do anything beyond [free STI and therapy sessions],” Zhang said. “The healthcare system here is just kind of difficult. That’s just the truth across [the United States]. I’m just hoping that USC finds a way to make it easier for students.” 

USG Senate Bill 143-15, which provided the funding for the free STI testing, was authored by USG senator Rudra Saigal and Committee on Wellness Affairs chair Brianna Sanchez — who is also currently running for USG vice president.

“I remember one of my friends was trying to get STI tested and I was making some phone calls for her,” Sanchez said. “I got a lot of miscommunication on how much these tests were. I got something of like $60 and then $30 and then free and it was just like, ‘Wait, which one is it?’ And I think for me, I was like, ‘Why aren’t they free?’”

Saigal and Sanchez said a benefit of this pilot program being open to all students is that students don’t have to use their own family’s health insurance, as they may not be comfortable with their parents knowing.

“Making it discreet and making it accessible to students is really important, especially at a university where there’s a lot of young people,” Zhang said. 

Saigal said the project was inspired by an earlier USG project in 2019 that gave funds to Student Health to provide students with free HIV testing. The HIV testing was later incorporated as a service available to all students through the mandatory student health fee. Saigal also said a survey was conducted and an overwhelming majority of respondents said STI testing costs are too high and that they experience a financial barrier.

“We’re expecting at least a 50% increase in students getting tested because that’s also the other motive of this project, to increase awareness about STI testing,” Saigal said. “We chose to do [free STI testing] longer to March 30 because Student Health informed us that there’s usually a spike in STI testing requests from students after spring break.” 

Sanchez said USG and GSG will analyze the results of this pilot program and go from there. They will also see who utilized the program more — undergraduate or graduate students. Sanchez said she wants the program to “flourish” beyond her and Saigal.  

“Initially, there was a lot of pushback from [administration] and also other members of USG,” Saigal said. “So when I ran for senate, this was one of my campaign platform points that I wanted to work on this project … Both [Sanchez and I], when we combined our advocacy forces together, we were able to convince administrators and also get funding from USG.”

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