Megan E. Bloom | AIDS Resource
The partnership between AIDS Resource and Penn State’s Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity gives students a safe space to be proactive about their sexual health.
Multiple times per semester the center opens its doors to Wes Chicko, Practice Manager and Outreach Specialist at AIDS Resource, who tests students for HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Anyone who tests positive for either sexually transmitted infection receives free treatment.
“The best thing about the partnership is reaching people between 18 and 24 years old which is a high-risk age group for contracting HIV,” said Chicko. “Many of them have never been tested for HIV prior.”
One out of seven people are unaware they have HIV, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Giving students the opportunity to know their status helps chip away at that high statistic and lets them take the right steps in regards to their health.
On average he tests around 10 students per visit. The next testing event begins at 9 a.m. on March 17 at the HUB-Robeson Center on campus.
Chicko and Brian Patchcoski, The Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity Director, met three years ago to discuss how the two organizations could best serve the student body. During that initial meeting, they created the framework for the successful program that dozens of students utilize today.
Bringing this service to campus on a regular basis has normalized testing, said Patchcoski. Instead of testing being taboo, students are eager to ask him when the next event will be.
A critical part of the students’ positive reaction to the program is having the location at the center, a place where many feel comfortable to be themselves. Having a safe space for people to be vulnerable in takes away some of the barriers to healthcare many members of the LGBTQ+ community experience.
“Folks can come in, do their thing and go without questions,” he said. “You see them leave with a burden lifted from their shoulders. ”The respectful, welcoming atmosphere Chicko and Patchcoski have fostered opens the doors to students asking difficult questions about their health and the agency’s services. “The long term impact is much greater than what we see in the day to day process,” Patchcoski said.
Beyond the immediate benefits of this partnership, it teaches students how they can care for their health and that AIDS Resource is available to help if they need it.
AIDS Resource, 129 S. Sparks St., provides culturally sensitive support to people infected with and affected by HIV or AIDS and to prevent further infection through education and outreach programs. The organization takes a holistic approach and assess clients’ individual needs to create a model of service specifically catered to each person that will make their journey easier.
The Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity at Penn State works to create and maintain an open, safe and inclusive environment honoring gender and sexual diversity. It provides educational, social and supportive programming to best serve the students, faculty, staff and alumni.