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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Is HIV testing a must for Brandeis?

Published: March 24, 2006
Section: Opinions

Since February break, the Brandeis campus has been abuzz about HIV testing: does Brandeis need testing and, if so, are we capable of providing it effectively? The student body seems to stand in unity, answering both those questions as “yes.” 328 Brandeis students registered for free HIV testing during an event sponsored by the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) last Friday, and the group also received 659 signatures on their HIV testing petition in just one day. However, the Administration is beating a different drum.

Kathleen Maloney, the administrator of the Brandeis Health Center, stresses that Brandeis may not be the most appropriate place to get an HIV test. She says that the Health Center recommends all students go to Mass. General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, as it has the appropriate counseling staff to handle people who test positive for the virus. She emphasized that students should “go to the place with the most experience,” especially when dealing with a disease as serious as HIV/AIDS.

Maloney also brings up privacy concerns about having HIV testing in someone's medical record. She is not sure Brandeis students recognize “the ramifications of having this on their [medical] record.” Because employers often ask applicants to disclose their medical records, student's futures may be compromised because employers may disapprove of students conduct that would have put them at a “higher-risk” for contracting HIV.

However, when questioned about Ms. Maloneys concerns, Iyah Romm ('07), Co-coordinator of the Brandeis SGAC chapter, points out that “seeking testing actually demonstrates a higher level of responsibility for one's sexual health and for the well-being of others, as opposed to engaging in the same 'risky behaviors' without seeking knowledge of one's HIV status. Further, HIV testing is a preventative health measure, and to construe it as being representative of engagement in 'irresponsible sexual relations' is a gross misinterpretation.”

While Kathleen Maloney brings up some serious points, I am deeply troubled by the current inaccessibility of HIV testing for Brandeis students. MGH operates extremely limited free HIV testing hours: 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. during the workweek and 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. These are incredibly inflexible hours, especially for college students who live over an hour away via public transportation from MGH, and who often have classes during the times at which testing is offered. The effects of the inaccessibility are clear: in an anonymous survey conducted by Student Global AIDS, 75% of Brandeis student respondents have never been tested for AIDS, despite the fact that 69% of respondents say they would take advantage of testing if it were offered on-campus.

Moreover, as SGAC points out, hospitals and universities across the country are able to offer anonymous testing that is not attached to medical records for a small fee. If Brandeis is overly concerned with student's privacy (rightfully so, I may add), I would hope they would work out a way to protect our privacy, rather than just deny us the right to accessible testing. However, even if the health center were completely unable to protect the privacy of students, is that a legitimate justification to put students in the dangerous predicament of not being able to get tested? Students are completely able to make a rational choice about receiving an HIV test without paternalistic administrators protecting us overly judgmental employers.

According to a Brandeis Student Union resolution passed unanimously last Sunday, the absence of HIV testing on campus “presents a danger to the community” and with hordes of untested students, they are absolutely right. Kathleen Maloney says that she is working on a proposal to bring “emergency” HIV testing to campus, which will be presented to the University Administration at the beginning of the 2006 Fall semester. While this is a marvelous step in the right direction, the Administration must be sure to adopt a proposal that does not simply offer a limited-access “emergency-only” test that would compromise the general student populace's safety in the future.