Being a Point Scholar means that I have the opportunity to create a Community Service Project each year. This year, I am building off work that I did last year and creating a program that will offer free HIV tests to all students at Grinnell College. I think when we hear about people or organizations creating programs that benefit the LGBTQ+ community, it is easy to forget how much work goes into putting an idea in motion. Therefore, I really wanted to use this post as a look into how I am currently working with others on my campus to create a program that will better my community.
Access to HIV testing is limited, and access to free testing is even rarer. My first step in figuring out how to secure free testing was contacting the student health center (SHACS). Through my conversations with them, I found out that while the student health center does offer HIV testing, the tests cost $20. This fee is not only inconvenient, but makes testing inaccessible for low income students who cannot afford to pay the fee. In addition, Grinnell College has recently been offering a free STI testing event every semester. I thought if this event can be offered for free, there was definitely a way to secure free HIV testing.
Next, I went to the Primary Health Care Center (PHC) in the town of Grinnell, IA to see what they have to offer. I learned that PHC does offer free HIV testing and has a clinic bus that comes to Grinnell, IA frequently. Before this conversation, I had never heard about this service because there was not much marketing on campus. After talking to some friends, I found out they had also never heard about it. I realized that our lack of knowledge was partially because when the bus comes, it is parked at a medical center a few miles off campus. Many students do not have cars at Grinnell, which makes this location a big hurdle. I told PHC that there is a great need for free HIV testing at Grinnell College, specifically for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals, and asked if they would be interested in setting up a meeting with the student health center to try and combine forces. They enthusiastically agreed!
After the meeting between SHACS and PHC, we all agreed that there had to be a way to secure free HIV testing on campus. However, it would take time and funding to create a fully operating program. We decided that we would create a small-scale free testing week as a temporary fix. During LGBTQ+ health week, SHACS agreed to offer 40 free HIV tests. Whatever tests that remained after the week would be made available through vouchers from the LGBTQ+ student organization on campus. We considered this a victory, and after a majority of tests were taken during the week, I knew that a full program had to be made.
That takes me to this semester. I am currently working with SHACS and PHC to create a full scale free HIV testing program. As a senior about to graduate, it is incredibly important to me that this program will have the support and momentum it needs to last after I leave Grinnell. The good news is that things are heading in the right direction. Recently, the school newspaper published an article about the need for free and accessible STI and HIV testing on campus. In addition, while the PHC bus has halted coming to campus because of the winter weather, PHC hopes to come once a week soon.
I am confident that these steps are a good sign that free testing will happen soon. I am so glad that I have had the opportunity and support from Point to create this program and I know I will use the skills I have learned while making this program to continue to better the community for LGBTQ+ individuals.
Nolan is studying Theatre and Dance at Grinnell College. His goal is to create a non-profit theatre company in the Midwest dedicated to producing shows by LGBTQIA+ playwrights or focused on LGBTQIA+ topics that would also offer educational and outreach programs to the community. Read more about Nolan here.