A state representative is criticizing the university’s decision to hand out free condoms and sunscreen to University of Wisconsin students as a reminder to stay safe over spring break.
Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said the campaign by University of Health Services to hand out bags of lip balm, condoms and sunscreen the week before spring break begins sends mixed messages to students, according to spokesperson Mike Mikalsen.
Mikalsen said while UW has shown concern for the risks of sun damage to students who will be traveling for spring break, the university is also willing to distribute condoms, a move Nass believes promotes risky sexual behavior.
“The point that Rep. Nass was trying to make is that it’s not the role of the university to encourage sexual activity,” Mikalsen said. “That’s a choice that students can make on their own, and if you can afford to go to the Caribbean, then you can afford to buy your own condoms.”
Mikalsen added the campaign is evidence that UW needs to prioritize its expenditures to better reflect the economic times.
Using tuition and school fees to pay for the campaign, he said, is unfair to students who cannot afford to take a vacation over spring break but still contribute their share of funding to UHS.
“This is money that came from students,” Mikalsen said. “Spending it on lip balm, lotion and condoms would not rank as a high priority in anybody’s book in a reasonable way.”
Mikalsen said resources should be better allocated on the campus to address other health needs. He suggested that UW promotes an alternative campaign that advocates the dangers of sex with strangers.
UHS Executive Director Sarah Van Orman said while UHS has produced health campaigns in the spring for the past several years, this is the first time students have received free products.
Van Orman added UHS provides free condoms to students throughout the year.
The cost for the ongoing campaign is estimated at a few thousand dollars and equates to a “minimal cost to students” with respect to the benefits that come from it, Van Orman said.
“If we look at each of those issues, alcohol and STDs are short-term risks to students that are both associated with very high costs in terms of impact on academics,” Van Orman said. “The costs to society and to health are huge for the campus, and that’s why we think prevention is a good investment.”
Student surveys have provided significant positive feedback for the preventative campaign, Van Orman said.
Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said UHS’ campaign does not promote sexual promiscuity, but instead sends the message that if students are going to engage in sexual activity during spring break, they should make sure these activities are performed safely.
“I think it’s sending a good message, saying, look, if you’re going to look at spring break as a free-for-all, here’s something to remind you of the very serious consequences of that behavior,” Berceau said.