On Library Walk, a New Reason to Take Pause

I’m used to saying ‘no’ on Library Walk. To Kripsy Kremes for Haiti, to undercover Christian pizza parties, to Spring rush (though frat boys don’t often ask in the first place), to marsupial-hatted bros peddling the worst in college journalism since 1981 and, most frequently, to an indignant troupe of twentysomethings who want to know why I — of all people! — don’t have five minutes for gay marriage.

So last week, in approaching the mobile blood bank stationed just outside the Student Health Center, I had my standard responses at the ready: “Sorry,” I might say to the flock of sorority girls boasting “Party with Pi Phi” tank tops and a hand-drawn “Donate YOUR Tiger Blood” poster, “still gay.” Or I might, in a gesture of greater friendliness, slow down to offer a polite grin. (I am, after all, still gunning for one of those tank tops.)

In any case, I was spared the decision. Behind the table were no philanthropy-loving sorority girls/Charlie Sheen interns to behold, and in place of the Tiger Blood poster was one that read, in giant black lettering: “Know Your Status — Free HIV Rapid Testing.”

There were, unsurprisingly, virtually no takers at the time that I passed by. I’m not sure whether to chalk that up to a general culture of avoidance on Library Walk or to the popular belief that HIV is only an issue in the developing world and the gay community.

Maybe I’m assuming too much, and those passing were no more cognizant of the blood bank than of student orgs hawking Jamba Juice fliers or fried rice. Maybe for some, it only takes a quarter’s practice to tune out all solicitors, no matter how colorful the banner or aggressive the plea for attention.

Still, I can’t help but think that in this case, they should take notice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans living with HIV doesn’t know he’s infected. And at the risk of echoing one of a thousand public service announcements, it’s a helluva lot scarier to live with the virus without knowing than to be aware of it; while many infected people go years before requiring medication, early treatment is crucial in keeping healthy.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons people don’t get tested in the first place, not the least of which is the stigma of being perceived as the kind of person who requires testing. It’s a ridiculous designation, because in reality, everyone who’s ever had sex — whether in a frat-house closet with an acquaintance of 20 minutes or in blissful union with a high school sweetheart in the backseat — is exactly the kind of person who should get tested.

Plus, the rapid test offered on Library Walk last week takes the anxiety out of waiting for results: with a results in around 10 minutes (during which most test conductors offer counseling if necessary, or otherwise a brief sex ed review), the whole process lasts no longer than the rush-hour wait at Panda Express — and is, invariably, a less regrettable decision than the orange chicken. Promise.

As long as that stigma exists, though, the blood bank line won’t be able to hold a candle to Burger King’s. I get it: The fear of being spotted underneath a “Know Your Status” banner by a frat brother or a professor or — God forbid, with the kind of bad luck that’s meant only to strike on hour-long TV dramas, a love interest — is probably enough to keep anyone away.

The School of Medicine’s trying to work around that stigma.

UCSD researchers have launched the “Lead the Way” campaign — a nine-month effort targeting residents of Hillcrest and North Park. The initiative aims to offer confidential HIV testing to as many in the 92103 and 92104 zip codes as possible; starting in June, the campaign will even offer an option for door-to-door mobile testing, allowing those interested to take a 10-minute rapid test in the privacy of their own home. (In other words: No risk of a chance run-in with the babe who sits three rows ahead of you in MMW).

Until then, the Student Health Center offers confidential HIV testing for free for all covered under SHIP; for those without coverage, it’s around $10.

There’s no need to divulge why you’re there: Just walk into the nurse’s clinic and request “counseling.”

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