Evan Hall (he/him)
If you ever venture into the UHS building on campus, you will find yourself on the first floor, or walking upstairs to immunizations or radiology. Yet, if you take the stairs down to the basement, you end up finding the Wolverine Wellness office. That’s exactly what I tried to do.
After being directed by the front desk clerk to follow the arrows downstairs, I found myself staring to my left and right down long hallways. The lights were off, and my motion didn’t prompt them to turn on. I expected to find the office on the first door to my left, but nothing. I kept walking down the hallway, holding myself close to the wall at each turn.
One thing U of M is known for is their signage; they’ll create beautiful glass signs to denote the equivalency of a storage closet in the Union. I found the glass Wolverine Wellness sign jutting from the wall.
I found what I was on a mission for-- condoms. On a gray office bookshelf, there were discrete bags with a non-discrete neon green color, containing six condoms and lube. (I’d note the lube was clearly not enough.)
My colleague on the Michigan HIV/AIDS Council had prompted me to investigate the state of condom access at U of M. After my journey, I responded to him, “Accessible? Maybe?”
Condoms are an effective way to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although condoms are touted as an inexpensive public health tool, the cost of condoms is still a barrier for many people. Hence, U of M believes that Wolverine Wellness should give out free condoms to support safer sex practices. It is absolutely necessary to have free condoms available, but that does not guarantee they are accessible.
I asked my friends about the Wolverine Wellness “condom shelf,” and they looked at me funny. First, some of them did not know free condoms were available to them, but even more troubling was that they did not know where to find them.
COVID-19 has altered how many universities function, including U of M. I have no doubt that condoms are the last thing on their mind. Even so, people are still having sex, pandemic or not.
Students may feel unsafe entering UHS to grab a free bag of condoms if it means they could cross paths with a person sick with COVID. They may opt for the other prevention options or none at all. Wolverine Wellness has presented a discrete way to obtain condoms, but at what cost? With the influx of students expected in the fall, where many will be vaccinated, the ability to have sex will be more accessible. However, one must wonder whether the condoms on the shelf will land in the hands of those who need them most.
This semester I was honored with the opportunity to distribute 500 condoms from the Condom Collective - Advocates for Youth. This organization strives “for policies and champion programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information; accessible, confidential, and affordable sexual health services; and the resources and opportunities necessary to create sexual health equity for all youth.” When the box of condoms arrived, I wondered who needed them most and how to get it to them. I tried to methodically comb through the literature of condom access, becoming bogged down in statistical jargon. Then, I took a moment to reflect on the people I surrounded myself with. I was a ranking member of queer and political organizations. What better way to send a statement about condom use than to give them to the people around me?
For Valentine’s Day, I distributed condoms to my fellow siblings in the Delta Lambda Phi provisional chapter at the University of Michigan, with an emphasis on “have fun & be safe.” Delta Lambda Phi is the first queer social fraternity on U of M’s campus, and its members are all men or nonbinary people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Since men who have sex with men are still the highest afflicted group with HIV, this seemed like the perfect place to start my condom distribution. I distributed a stock to their members for future use.
Next, as someone living in the de-densified dorms on campus, I was informed by a friend and RA that there were no condoms available to residents. During a “normal” year, condoms would be accessible for students at their community center. I distributed them to the main residence hall on the Hill of U of M’s campus.
In the process of distributing these condoms, I realized a seldom told truth about advocating for youth in their sexual practices: meet the moment. As I previously mentioned, with the opening of campus in the fall, the need for condoms will shift immensely, and I will be tasked with reframing how I should allocate the rest of the condoms.
The need for condoms is urgent now, tomorrow, and always. However, it takes the youth of today to figure how to do it.