Stellenbosch Exposed: Student opinions about sex, gender, diversity and alcohol use
Students often part take in many HIV and health related campaigns and programmes on campus, but never ask: who is responsible for these? We see safer-and-healthy sex posters and find free condoms in our campus buildings, residences and even in bars in town. Many might not know of it but the hand behind keeping campus aware and empowered in terms of sexual health is The Office for Institutional HIV Co-ordination (OIHC), along with its trained peer educators. The OIHC annually takes motivated students under their wing and train them as peer educators. The peer educators then act as an informal resource on campus to help achieve a campus free of new HIV infections.
One of the projects that the OIHC holds annually is called “Stellenbosch Exposed” and this year it took place in the week 20-23 September, in the Neelsie Student Centre, from 12:00-14:00. The campaign entailed surveying student opinions on topics such as same sex behaviour, interracial relationships, drug use, condom use, and attitudes toward HIV. OIHC volunteers and Peer 2 Peer educators, asked students to reflect on different themed posters. The goal was to get students involved in a discussion that is somehow seen as controversial.
Students were asked to give opinions on posters depicting certain controversial issues – such as condom use and negotiation, interracial relationships, men who have sex with men, as well as drug and alcohol use and its relation to risky sexual behaviour.
The first day of the campaign students were asked to give opinions on a poster depicting condom use and negotiation. About 53 students gave opinions and some interesting feelings and ideas were revealed. It is clear that students do have sex, but not always safer sex. One student commented: “I think sex is a common thing amongst students, but not always done safely.” Students generally felt that safer sex and condom use should be promoted more vigorously on campus and that condom distribution is a necessity – “If you don’t use a condom: you are an idiot!” Some students did, however, doubt the safety of Choice condoms – “Choice is not always the preferable choice” – and mentioned that the condom dispensers are often empty and this poses risk to the student community. Abstinence was offered by a few students as method of risk prevention and faithfulness to one’s partner represent the general view of SU students.
The second day, a picture of a black woman and white man kissing was used. Contrary to what some might think, most of the students were very supportive of interracial relationships and comments like “I think its cool” and “I love it” was quite common. There were of course some students who were heavily opposed to it. Some even went as far as to say that it goes against nature: “…in nature goats and sheep do not mix, thus different races should not mix either.”
On day three of the “Stellenbosch Exposed” Campaign the poster used was an advertisement on a public toilet in a men’s bathroom looking for sex. Therefore the question and image surrounded the notion of men who have sex with men (MSM). Opinions that were gathered varied from strong dislike to simple ignorance. For example: “I think it’s very gross and disgusting…” to “if it’s your preference …stick with what makes you happy…I just don’t want to see or hear it.”
Opinions indicated that students favour stereotypical heterosexual relationships, and are sometimes either disgusted or unaffected by the idea of men who have sex with other men.
On the last day, a poster depicted drug and alcohol use and its effect on sexual behaviour. All of the students that gave their opinions were in agreement that alcohol and drug use make people more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour since it impairs your judgement and lowers your inhibitions. Most students felt that it can make you do something that you might regret the next morning: “At the end of the day damage has been done which cannot be corrected…” or that you “aren’t able to consider all the consequences”.
The Stellenbosch Exposed campaign is necessary to gain insight into student community attitudes and beliefs in order to identify gabs in knowledge and create opportunities for change. In a politically correct environment, this campaign, offered the opportunity for students not to shy away from differences in opinions and to bring such conversations to the fore.