BERNSTEIN: Get smart about sex

University resident advisors should be trained to educate their residents about safe sex practices

Resident Advisors, or RAs, are undeniably valuable resources for first-years. They are well-trained in University rules and can even fill a mentor-like position for students who are having difficulty adjusting to college life. This difficulty in adjustment can stem from a number of sources, one of which is the highly sexualized nature of college compared with some incoming students’ high schools. To better address this adjustment, the University should more thoroughly train RAs in sex education so they can pass this knowledge on to their residents.

In the beginning of the school year, RAs meet with their residents to facilitate bonding and go through basic housing rules. They can also touch on more serious topics — like drug or alcohol use — and many emphasize their willingness to be a resource for students. For incoming first-years, these conversations can be enormously helpful, especially for students who have never before been confronted with some of the most prevalent aspects of college life (e.g. drinking and partying).

But for students in the process of adjusting to these changes and to what has been deemed the “hook-up culture” of college, safe sex can fall by the wayside. To combat this, some RAs have condoms in their rooms for residents to take, but safe sex and general knowledge about sex extends far beyond condom use, especially since there are many other methods of contraception, and condoms themselves are not 100 percent effective.

Most high school students take sex-ed classes, theoretically making safe sex conversations unnecessary and redundant in college; but these classes are often inefficient and, depending on when they are taken, can be quickly forgotten. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study found that only 28 percent of high schools in the U.S. taught 11 key pregnancy, HIV or other STD prevention topics, leaving 72 percent of schools with sex education classes that don’t cover aspects of sex education considered essential. Most shockingly, only 39 percent of sex education classes taught how to correctly use a condom, a skill many college students need to have.

The ineffectiveness of previous sex education is further supported by the lack of safe sex practices on university campuses. According to the CDC, of the 20 million STDs diagnosed every year, half of them are found in people aged 15 to 24, overlapping with the exact age ranges of most college students. Moreover, an estimated one in four college students currently has or has had an STD.

RAs should not be a substitute for decent sex education in high schools, and improving those courses should be a general policy goal. But given the sexual climate of college, RAs should be a resource for some of this information, or at least more of a resource for it than they are now. Of course, RAs cannot take the place of a trained educator, but a preliminary meeting with their residents that covers the basics of sex education and safe sex and outlines necessary resources — such as information on identifying STDs, locating emergency contraception and where the nearest clinics are — can only serve to benefit all entering students.

Fourth-year College student Taylor Locks, an outgoing Co-Chair of Housing and Residence Life who oversees first-year areas, wrote in an email that when training RAs prior to the start of the year, “Student Health is asked to coordinate presentations related to a number of topics in Health and Wellness. These trainings help connect our staff members to the many resources and tools provided by Student Health and how to utilize them effectively throughout the year.” However, she did not specify to what degree RAs are trained in sex-specific health topics or whether or not these presentations even cover sex.

A strong relationship between RAs and Student Health is certainly laudable, but RAs should still have enough of a foundation in sex-related issues to lead discussions about it in the beginning of the year, for the benefit of students who are either uninformed about or inattentive to these issues. The lack of sex education is a national problem and has a direct effect on the lives of University students, and better-equipping RAs to help their residents prepare themselves is one way to combat this issue.

Danielle Bernstein is a Senior Associate Opinion Editor. She can be reached at

Published March 31, 2014 in Opinion

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