Beyond the books and the rigors of academia, college is often seen as a time of independence, cutting the apron strings and finding yourself.
But that independence can be peppered with desires for experimentation that can have detrimental and lasting effects, including sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Recent study results estimate that 3.2 million girls ages 14 to 19 have an STI. The study, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March, found that on average 26 percent of girls at ages 14 to 19 have at least one STI.
CDC Researcher Sara Forhan reported that of the 838 girls she surveyed, the most common sexually transmitted infections and diseases were the Human Papillomavirus, then Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis and Herpes Simplex Virus 2.
Roshawnda McCall, a rising second year grad student at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, finds that when young people come to college, they take the perspective that "it's all fair game" and that she's heard females say "he wouldn't have sex with me without a condom if he had something."
"I don't think the perceived susceptibility thing is there," McCall said. "The importance of asking a partner to get tested is not there at all. It's not a priority."
McCall said she finds most students trust their sexual partners and get most of their STI information when they take required health courses.
"I think they know in the back of their head that STIs are out there," the 25-year-old said, noting "what you know isn't consistent with how you behave. We know what we have to do to protect ourselves, but do we do it?"
For Jaleisha Jackson, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania , the issue of low or perceived susceptibility can be witnessed during the annual HIV Awareness Week on campus and through her peers' decisions.
Each year the nursing department organizes events for HIV Awareness Week, offering free testing, resources and information in the main part of the campus, hoping to benefit from the heavy traffic. But each year Jackson, a nursing major, sees a majority of the students walk past the resources and information and on to their next destination.
"I think on campus the thought is 'this is more of a problem for someone else; this is not something that can happen to me. That's something that happens to those other people, whoever those other people may be,'" Jackson said. "I think people are aware but they just don't think it can happen to them. I think it's because a lot of us are still really young and we believe we are invincible."
And when it comes to her fellow nursing majors, Jackson said they are not immune to the changing culture of college, experimentation with illegal substances and the occasional hookup or casual sexual encounter, but that it seems to be compounded by the information students learn in class.
"I think people just think 'because I have this knowledge, I can self regulate,'" she said. "I think we need to bring it out into the open so people can know it's okay to talk about these issues, and not just okay, but smart."
In Atlanta, Spelman College , a historically black college for women, sees similar challenges as staff and students have attempted to spread reliable information to the student body and to students at neighboring institutions.
Through the school's clinic, several student-led committees form the Student Health Associates and Peer Educators (SHAPE) and work to address all health needs, one of which is HIV/AIDS, STIs and abstinence.
But Dana Lloyd, women's health nurse practitioner for Student Health Services at Spelman, has noticed that many of the young women she sees rely on the internet to research symptoms and self diagnose before coming into the clinic, where their education usually begins.
"A lot of them have heard of the STIs, but they are not always aware of how it's treated or its affect on the body," Lloyd said. The majority of students who are diagnosed with an STI are devastated, whether it be one that is bacterial and curable or one that is viral and incurable."
Lloyd, who began working at Spelman in 2002, said students' reactions can vary depending on their maturity level, but finds most students feel hurt, betrayed or embarrassed.
"I think this population is still in the invincible stage of 'it's not going to happen to me,'" she said.
With about 2,000 students and about 10,000 visits during the 2007 to 2008 school year, Lloyd believes the clinic is well-utilized and works to make sure students know they have options.
"We also want them to know that if you're not ready to be sexually active, we do promote abstinence," she said, noting that one event with a husband and wife team of professors that talked about dating and sexuality from the psychological and medical viewpoints was popular with students from all three colleges and got students talking about the issues.
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? E-mail: email@example.com