COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The University of Missouri-Columbia, will soon be the first in the Big 12 Conference to distribute free condoms in residential hall bathrooms, school officials said Friday.
Health advocates said the pilot program will help lower the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregnancies. The condoms will be placed in baskets in all dormitory bathrooms together with wallet-sized educational packets, MU's Residential Life officials said.
"The impact of this, what I hope, is that we have eliminated as many barriers as possible, so students have access to condoms, and those individuals who choose to engage in sexual activities will have those available to them," said Heather Mueller, a health educator at the Student Health Center. "Since we are sexual-health advocates, we feel it is necessary to have the information along with the condoms."
Mueller said the condoms will be supplied by the Columbia/Boone County Health Department. A fraternity on campus suggested the idea, which Mueller said is similar to a project at Harvard University.
Condoms are already distributed at no cost at the university's Student Health Center, the Women's Center and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center.
Mueller said the Health Advocate Peer Education program, a group she coordinates, was active in advocating for HIV awareness and a wider availability of contraception.
An on-campus survey of 100 black students this year showed support for increasing access to condoms, said Christopher Keller, president of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, a traditionally black fraternity. Mueller said her research found that some students were too embarrassed to ask another person for a condom and that the rate of sexually transmitted infections was higher among blacks.
"At this age in our lives, people are in transition, coming to college and having to live on their own," said Keller, 23, a senior from Kansas City. "Let's face the facts: People are having sex, and let's do something about it."
Mueller said campus staff would restock condom supplies in the 200 residential hall bathrooms throughout the semester. No complaints have been registered about the program, which at term's end will be evaluated in an online survey, she said.