COLUMBIA - Box or baggie?
That was the question the Missouri Students Association had to resolve when it encountered a glitch in its plan to put condom dispensers in some MU dorms.
The effort to put condom dispensers in dorms began in 2006 when the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity joined forces with MU Student Health Center and sent proposals to the Missouri Students Association and Residence Halls Association. Later that year, the Missouri Students Association passed Bill 46-10, "A Resolution Supporting Free Distribution in Residence Halls." It was the first piece of legislation passed in the Sexual Health and Safety Products Implementation Initiative.
The Missouri Students Association backed up its support with research. In 2005, the MU Student Health Center posted a survey to 6,000 random undergraduates at MU and found that 75 percent of students described themselves as sexually active, and of those, 70 percent had engaged in sexual activity in the last 30 days.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute conducted another survey in 2004 using data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The survey found that one-half of all sexually active college students will contract a sexually transmitted infection by age 25.
The proposal - the Sexual Health and Safety Products Implementation Initiative - called for a free condom and a sexual health information pamphlet to be distributed from dispensers in a small bag.
The pilot program will take place in three to seven residence halls for a minimum of three years. Installation of the dispensers was scheduled for this summer, but the plan developed a snag.
Missouri Students Association Vice President Chelsea Johnson said the bags containing the condoms and the pamphlet were getting stuck inside the machines.
Johnson and Nate Ballance, vice president of the Residence Halls Association, met Thursday to discuss how to resolve the problem. They decided that instead of bags, the condoms and pamphlet would be dispensed in small cardboard boxes.
"The bags weren't compatible with the machines," Ballance said.
Now, they'll pop out in a cardboard sleeve that Ballance compared to the packaging of candy bars.
The boxes will cost the Residence Halls Association an additional $950. The decision to also dispense female condoms added another $1,025 to the total cost.
Ballance said the association will cover the additional costs and is looking into a yearly fundraiser if the pilot program is successful.
Johnson estimated that the dispensers would be shipped in two to seven weeks. The student program SHAPE (Sexual Health Advocate Peer Education) will package the condoms and pamphlets before the dispensers arrive. The goal is that the dispensers are installed and working within the next eight weeks.
The initiative is the culmination of a two-year effort to make condoms easily available to students to combat an increase of sexually transmitted diseases at MU. The Residence Halls Association plans to survey students living in the pilot residence halls before the dispensers are installed and conduct another survey afterward to gauge the program's usefulness.
"We are doing this for our residents," Ballance said. "We have representatives in each hall and they thought students would make good use of them and appreciate their availability,"
The residence halls that are part of the pilot project are Center, Gillett, Lathrop, Mark Twain, South and Wolpers. "The goal is to have them in every residence hall eventually," Johnson said.
Last semester, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton wrote a letter providing his support for free condoms in residential halls as long as their purchase was funded solely through student associations. The Residence Halls met soon after to discuss funding.
The cost of each dispenser is $1,800, and stocking costs another $500 for the first year. But the residence halls couldn't come up with enough money; they only had $4,900, even with money donated by the Legion of Black Collegians: enough for two machines.
The Missouri Students Association decided to step in and contribute the remaining $8,900 needed to buy six dispensers.
"If enough student organizations support condoms in the residential halls, MSA has a responsibility to make a statement and put forth an amount to pilot the program," Johnson said.
Condoms can also be found at the Women's Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center and the Student Health Center during business hours. Questions can be directed to the office of the Residence Halls Association at firstname.lastname@example.org.