Healthy Research?

Photo by Patrick Mannion

Just in case you haven’t already heard, DePaul University is ranked among the most sexually unhealthy universities in the United States. In fact, it is ranked the most sexually unhealthy university. Trojan (yes the condom company) produces an annual Sexual Health Report Card ranking colleges and universities across the nation on the sexual health resources and services that they provide to their campus communities. According to the 2011 Sexual Health Report Card, DePaul University is ranked 141 out of 141 schools. It appears that Trojan is not only interested in selling their brand—although they do market Trojan BareSkin to viewers of their latest report card—but they are also interested in students’ access to adequate resources and education on sexual health and safe sex.

A number of questions arise around the issue of sexual health resources at DePaul when alarming results are produced from a national study like this. However, before we become up in arms about sexual health at DePaul, we must consider the methodology of this study. The data on which the study was based was collected and analyzed by the Oregon-based independent research firm, Sperling’s BestPlaces, using 141 major colleges and universities extracted from the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conference system. This year, Sperling’s BestPlaces also included the top 10 medical schools across the nation. For this study, researchers collected data from student health center representatives concerning:

– Student opinion of health center
– Hours of operation
– Drop-in availability or requirement of appointments for student scheduling
– Separate sexual health awareness programs for students (e.g., sex week)
– Contraceptive availability—free or at cost
– Condom availability—free or at cost
– HIV testing on-site (on/off campus, cost)
– STI testing on-site (on/off campus, cost)
– Anonymous advice for students available through center (email, phone, text)
– Lecture/outreach programs for sexual health issues
– Student peer groups
– Availability of sexual assault programs, resources or services
– Website usability, functionality

Student health centers were then graded based upon their responses to services offered. Lately, this Trojan Sexual Health Report Card has been a buzz topic around campus. In addition to an article published in the November 7th issue of The DePaulia, the availability of sexual health resources at DePaul even made CBS local news on November 9th.

As previously mentioned, Sperling’s BestPlaces looked at BCS schools, which includes sport-affiliated member schools of The Big East, The Atlantic Coast Conference, The Southeastern Conference, The Big Ten, The Big XII, and the Pacific-12 Conference. What about schools that do not have major sports teams or programs? Where are they ranked among the sexually healthy? For the most part, they are excluded from this study.

Let’s also examine how sexual health is being measured. Sexual health was measured by the available resources and services offered by health centers on campus. However, there could potentially be schools ranked at the bottom that do not have health centers but their student organizations might offer alternative health resources or programs through partnerships with local clinics that serve the campus community. Couldn’t these schools also be considered sexually healthy?

This study was not only commissioned by a condom company that blatantly markets its products within the report but the resulting report provides little to no detail about methodology, survey questions, or data analysis, much less details about the data itself. Oh, and did I mention that the report isn’t peer reviewed?

That said, these methodological questions can only lead us to conclude that this study isn’t particularly scientific. Now this is not to say that DePaul should be ranked any higher than it is; these are just a few things to consider when reading, processing, and sharing the results of such a study. While DePaul may not provide its students with many of the services this study explores (e.g., a student health center, contraceptive availability, HIV testing, etc), it is certainly fair to say that its ranking would change even if this were a more nationally representative sample with schools selected at random, independent of their sports affiliations.

Tempting as it is to take these findings and run with them, given DePaul’s prohibitive practices on the distribution of condoms, etc., it is important to equip our students with the basic fundamentals of research so that they may know what a study is measuring and whether or not the findings are both reliable and generalizable. Methodology does make a difference.

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Author: InnerG

Glenance Green is a Chicago-based scholar, activist, playwright, filmmaker, recreational athlete, and published author of the book Shades of Green. Glenance has forged her own creative path to visual and performing arts through writing. She is also the founder and director of A g Thing!, a creative agency in the City of Chicago that aids as a catalyst in bringing unsung voices and their narratives to the broader community. ​

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