Univ. falls in sexual health rankings

Despite lingerie fashion shows and free condoms in entryways, Yale may already have climaxed when it comes to sexual health.

The University dropped to 41st place in the “Trojan Sexual Health Report Card” released Monday — down from 16th last year and first place in 2006. In its third annual rankings of sexual health services and resources at 139 colleges and universities nationwide, Trojan awarded Yale a sexual health GPA of 3.09. Bert Sperling, head of Sperling’s Best Places — the research firm that conducted the study — said Yale’s lower ranking resulted from student responses indicating “mediocre” accessibility, completeness and trustworthiness of Yale University Health Services.

“I certainly don’t think Yale is declining as far as the services they offer,” Sperling said. “I do think it’s noteworthy that the students only had an average feeling of trust in their student health center as far as services that are offered.”

The Trojan study rated schools across 13 categories, ranging from programs for sexual assault survivors to Web site functionality and outreach initiatives. But Sperling said the individual criteria are not all scored on the same scale, and he said he could not provide information on the relative weight of the different criteria.

Paul Genecin, the director of YUHS, and Rebecca Schrier, a student health educator at YUHS, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Yale’s rankings are not the only ones that have fluctuated wildly over the Trojan survey’s three-year history. Of this year’s top 10 ranked schools, only two were in the same top bracket in 2007. In fact, Stanford University, which is now ranked No. 1, was listed at 41 in 2007 and at four in 2006. Sperling said he attributes the erratic changes in rankings to the evolving criteria and collection methods used to conduct the survey: His firm partially introduced a student-polling feature in 2007 and fully incorporated it in 2008.

When the rankings debuted in 2006, Sperling’s Best Places reviewed only 100 schools, all of which were judged based primarily on information provided on their Web sites.

Sperling said he solicited student response through Facebook advertisements targeted at undergraduates at the colleges involved in the study. Although about 9,000 students responded, the online poll did not generate the same number of respondents on each campus. Only 48 Yale students filled out the online poll, but given that the survey included large public universities — such as the University of Texas at Austin, with 50,000 students — Yale’s response rate was on par with that of other schools, Sperling said.

Yale students’ responses to poll questions generally matched the national averages, but when compared only to top-ranked Stanford, they differed considerably. When asked whether student health services were “trustworthy, discreet and truthful when consulted regarding sexual health issues,” 71 percent of the Yalies who answered chose “yes,” compared to 86 percent of the 78 Stanford respondents. To the same question, 15 percent of Yale students answered “no,” over three times the percentage for Stanford.

But Axel Schmidt ’09, a Peer Health Educator who has followed the Trojan rankings since they first came out in 2006, said he is starting to doubt their validity, given the strength and breadth of Yale’s efforts to promote sexual health.

“There are definitely things we need to work on, but the point is to provide good health services and not to figure how we stack up to Ohio State,” he said. “The first year, I saw that we were first … [and] I thought it was a consequence of the great work we were doing.”

“Sex Signals” and “Connections” presentations — hallmark rites of passage for freshmen during Camp Yale — are just two examples of campus-wide efforts to promote sexual health starting from the moment freshmen arrive in New Haven, Schmidt said.

According to Sperling, Yale’s poor marks on the sexual health report card may be due to a failure to effectively advertise their services to students.

“I’m not a sexual health expert,” he said. “[But] maybe there’s a perception that students don’t feel as comfortable as you would want them to feel regarding sexual health issues and the student health center, so it may be merely a matter of reaching out to the students as opposed to changing the programs.”

But Community Health Educator Austin Baik ’11 said Yale’s commitment to open dialogue about issues relating to sexual health makes it easier for students to get the advice or help they need from peers or medical professionals. For him, Sex Week at Yale — a biannual event featuring talks, Master’s Teas and interactive workshops relating to sexual hygiene — embodies the University’s dedication to frank discussion and fostering awareness of sexual health on campus.

“I think that is really healthy — to have a school environment where people aren’t prancing about in the shadows and not understanding the seriousness of what they may be doing — or what they may not be doing,” he said.

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