It’s often said that the University is a microcosm of the world. In many ways — with national attention given to our local debates, like the racialization of affirmative action or the University’s roles in impacting the future of Detroit — that couldn’t be more true. But when attending to these issues, our world gets more sound bites than the realities that confront our community, particularly as it relates to the status of identity.
Locally, students are bombarded with billboards, campus signs, digital posters and campus dialogues that address the range of identities of our student community, or at least the need to evaluate them. A lot of the publicity given to increased awareness around matters that highlight identity deal with questions that involve the ideas and leadership that would make the University a safe space for students. Having such an environment is thought by many school administrators, especially the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, to be required. MESA explores the appreciation for identity and status with as much intellectual vitality as the commitment of students who are willing to dedicate their engagement. Though the constant images that students receive around campus are indeed supportive, they are no less confusing. Take, for example, sexual health.
Bulletin boards in residential halls scream “diversity matters” or hand-held pledges given across campus that honor sexual health awareness often provoke students to get more involved in knowing their sexual health status. These campaigns are often very ambitious. They ask students to survey their health with quick and easy tests or seek counseling for preventable measures that can be taken as a precaution against incurable diseases, like HIV/AIDS. Yet, current societal conditions make it difficult for students to act responsibly.
The media uses advertisements to convince young adults — especially college-aged students — to know their status for sexually transmitted diseases but has not yet resolved the circumstances that objectify people who actually know their status, or who feel comfortable advocating for people to do the same. The name-calling, gossiping or isolation felt in churches, families or places of employment is an unfortunate reality for some people who test positive for a sexually transmitted disease. Circumstances such as these challenge the idea of college students all over this country, and in our own community, to have their status revealed through a blood test. So, what are our choices?
Noticeably, our choices aren’t as varied as the names of sexually transmitted diseases. However, there are options. The one that I favor most is the option to live.
I mentioned earlier that the University lives in the image of this world; just like our world, it is highly responsive to the choices that people make — be it pollution with the threat of global warming, or the responsibility that students take in their sexual health. But different than our world are the University’s support and limitless resources that students can find and engage in when understanding what it means to have sex responsibly, or how to offset potentially more disastrous situations if, perhaps, your status is positive.
MESA helps students consider these issues and potentially re-frame them. On campus, our reality includes knowing or hearing about certain students’ names getting slandered for their presumed promiscuity, but still expecting them to get tested. Given the rumors, it may seem safer for that student to not know the truth.
Indeed, it is very hard to figure out which message is right: the message that you hear from MESA — that knowing your status can save a life — the one in our communities — where the experience of living in isolation might be real for someone whose test came out positive — or living a life in fear — not knowing when and with whom it’s OK to talk about your status. The stigma, the shame and silence are all facts of life that do exist. But MESA’s advocacy to share in that journey with students in identifying support groups on campus, or spreading the message about the importance of getting tested be understood through terms that may resonate with students lifestyles, indicates that MESA’s weekly testing is more than a campaign for social causes.
Each Tuesday between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., MESA’s testing service is administered in room 2202 of the Michigan Union with a sense of follow-up that makes it a viable option for students. Not only is MESA raising awareness by providing a weekly testing service in their office, but they are also helping students find their voice once they know what to say.
Brittany Smith is an LSA senior.