For the many students living in University of Wisconsin residence halls, house fellows act as a resource and beacon of guidance. However, University Housing’s recent decision to clamp down on condom distribution by house fellows has left many wondering why.
Contrary to popular belief, house fellows could never give condoms to residents, Associate Resident Life Director Larry Davis said.
In summer 2010, Housing was informed the Campus Women’s Center was providing condoms to house fellows to give to residents, Davis said.
Housing initially thought only a handful of dorms were involved, but after some investigating they realized staff at many residence halls received condoms from CWC.
Davis said housing officials decided to make it clear providing condoms to residents is not part of a house fellow’s job.
Building community and providing support for students are what House Fellows are required to do, Davis said, and to ask house fellows to hand out condoms – a non-housing activity, according to Davis – “isn’t a good use of our time.”
Liability is also a concern for Housing, Davis said. Over the summer they were informed by Risk Management that issues could arise if house fellows provided condoms to residents.
These issues include an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease from a defective condom, but Davis said no student has ever sued Housing for such reasons.
In addition, condoms are considered an item related to a student’s health, which house fellows are not allowed to administer, Davis added. House fellows cannot give students aspirin.
Should house fellows feel their residents need condoms, they can advise students to visit CWC, Sex Out Loud or other campus agencies that provide free condoms, Davis said.
They can also invite Sex Out Loud to do a safe-sex program for their residents and if the organization distributes condoms, that would be fine.
While some house fellows have said they would be willing to sacrifice extra time to hand out condoms, Davis said it simply is not in their job description, and house fellows need to comply.
“In their role as a house fellow, we have a right to tell them what they can and can’t do,” Davis said.
UW senior and House Fellow Jeff Eversman said the restriction did not come up until a returning staff member asked about the issue.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I understand the reasoning behind the decision…but it’s still a resource that would be nice to distribute when necessary.”
In addition, Eversman said he never would have thought to ask his house fellow for a condom when he was a freshman.
As of yet, Eversman has not been approached by residents for condoms, and if someone does ask, he will direct them to vending machines within the residence hall.
After recently finding out about the restriction, CWC Programming Director Rae Lymer said she was upset, especially because as someone who lived in the residence halls, “it’s one of those things where I know that it happens.”
More importantly though, Lymer said Housing is acting as a barrier for students who want to be responsible about sex.
“[Housing is] denying students access to safe sex supplies,” Lymer said.