New people. New place. New environment. College could pose more threats to your health than you were aware of.
With the freedom that comes from moving out and living without parents, students tend to engage in activities that are potentially harmful to their health, such as binge drinking, unprotected sex, and drug abuse. These activities add to the risks of dormitory congestion, lack of sleep, proper nutrition, and infectious diseases, and inadequate health habits.
Director of residence life and student conduct, Eugene Shang mentions the impact of stress on student health and the housing department’s contribution to assist students through difficult times.
“The stresses of being a student is to us health,” said Shang. “When you’re under a lot of stress, it impacts your immune system. The RA’s conduct programs about stress management, and there are posters from the Find Your Balance campaign to just put information on for students to see and say, ‘hey try to be balanced in different ways’.”
Maintaining an individual’s health during college is a struggle for students nationwide. In an American College Health Association study on undergraduate students’ health, 19.1 percent of the students surveyed nationally reported being diagnosed or treated for allergies.
Director of student health services and disabled student services, Cynthia Denne compares the risks of living in a dorm to the risk associated with living in the regular world.
“The risks are pretty much the same as you are just outside in the regular world,” Denne said. “It is just a little more increased because it’s a closed living quarter and an increased rate of coming across somebody that is infected by something.”
The University Health Center has not come across any outbreaks recently, or cases of a huge number of students infected by the same disease. Denne said severe cases are generally isolated.
“We see the usual customary types of infections,” Denne said. “Sore throat, middle ear infections, viral infections. Occasionally, we would have a couple cases of mono, however I would not say there has been any shortfall in terms of having an outbreak.”
However, Denne said that the Health Center has had an increase in the number of students coming in with an STD contact.
“We try to stay on top of that,” Denne said. “Not only in terms of diagnosing and treating, but educating our students in terms of how these diseases are transmitted and making good choices”
Shang mentioned the housing department’s initiative in increasing awareness about STDs and the RA’s responsibility in regards to conducting programs for students on safer sex.
“We just want to make sure everybody is being safe,” Shang said.
The housing department also ensured that the RA staff received several certifications as part of their training for the 2016-2017 academic year to reduce risks of living on campus.
“The RA staff this year was all CERT trained,” Shang said. “It’s the community emergency response team training. They are also all CPR and AED trained, Mental Health first aid trained, and first aid trained.”
The housing department acknowledges the problems associated with living with a large number of people in a confined space. Shang mentioned the importance of self-care to maintain a healthy balance.
“It’s trying to make sure they are caring for themselves,” Shang said. “The better they care for themselves, the better the community.”
Ryan King, freshman criminology major, lives in Brandt Hall. Moving in, he said he expected the different values and mindsets along with different health views to create conflict amongst people.
“I believe it is up to the individual person to clean their room and to monitor the rest,” King said. “There are several health risks involved in the dorms. One of the big ones I would say is the mold or a lack of cleaning of the showers or bathrooms, but I have also heard from friends at other schools that STDs and general viral diseases are commonly spread across.”
King has not personally encountered any health hazards while living on campus, but he said he is worried about the risks that could arise due to the increase in temperature.
“A lot of people here seem to maintain a healthy environment, but higher the temperature goes, the more health issues that will come,” King said.
Nader Elhatem, freshman mathematics major, was surprised about the health conditions associated with living in Brandt.
“I thought it would be a lot cleaner and more sanitary,” Elhatem said. “I did not expect to have to wear sandals in the shower. I also thought that we would have more than two showers working for the first semester, but instead only two out of five worked.”
Philip Austin, a freshman kinesiology major who also lives in Brandt, said he agrees with Elhatem’s statement about his disappointment with the cleanliness of the bathrooms.
“Illnesses travel fast when you live in a dorm,” Austin said. “Everyone is together, it’s not difficult to catch a disease. When someone gets sick, we’re all sick.”
Living on campus does raise concerns to both the housing department and health center, but Shang and Denne said that student’s personal initiative in maintaining their health is the favorable way to reduce health risks.
“Just reduce your risk. You can’t live in a bubble, but you can be smarter about it,” said Denne.
Shaikha Almawlani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.