“Solarity” Failed Students By Refusing to Provide Condoms

 This weekend, I was extremely disappointed that I was not allowed to provide condoms at Solarity. As a Sexual Information Center student staffer, I aim to increase access to safer sex supplies for Oberlin’s campus. I have personally done so by filling the condom bins in both Mary Church Terrell Main Library and the Science Center. Additionally, in my role as a Residential Assistant, I make condoms freely available for my residents at my door. 

Solarity is one space where the need for safer sex supplies has been overlooked. In general, music events tend to involve riskier behavior with drug usage and sexual practices. Solarity is no exception. If you decide to hook up with the person(s) you are with after a night of dancing, you do not have many options to acquire safer sex supplies. 

Wilder Hall closes at 1 a.m., the same time Solarity ends, so you cannot access the condoms that are freely available on the SIC’s door in Wilder Hall, room 203. If you do not already have either your own personal condoms, access to a friend’s supply, or live on campus with a RA that supplies residents with condoms, then you have few remaining options. You would have to drive to either Mickey Mart or Walmart to buy condoms. However, that option requires access to reliable and safe transportation at 1 a.m. and the funds to purchase condoms. 

Making condoms freely available at Solarity would eradicate the barriers to safer sex. In order to do this, I reached out to the Solarity Facebook page a couple of days before the concert and wrote, “Hi! I’m [an] SIC student staffer and we were wondering if we could provide safer sex supplies for Solarity? We’re thinking at the table where students tap their ID to enter we could just have safer sex supplies there!” I was left on read. 

Solarity organizers have recognized the issue of drug abuse at similar events and on Dec. 6, they shared information posted from the Oberlin Students for Sensible Drug Policy Facebook page urging students to be mindful of what they consume. In this post, Oberlin Students for Sensible Drug Policy said, “Remember that sharing snorting devices puts you at risk for contracting Hep C and HIV!”

It is odd to me that Solarity advocates for not sharing snorting devices because of the increased likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted infections but event organizers would not respond to my query about providing condoms. So, on Dec. 6, I messaged them again and wrote verbatim, “Hey! Just wanted to check back on this. Would it be okay if we, the SIC, came prior [to] students entering to provide free safer sex supplies?”

Once again I was left on read. Increasingly frustrated at the lack of communication, I decided that I was going to bring condoms to Solarity anyway. I took a bag with approximately 100 condoms in it and approached one of the check-in tables. I asked the two students working the table if I could distribute the condoms across the two tables between which students have to walk to enter and exit. One of the students shifted the question to the student who was physically tapping cards and placing wristbands on people coming. They looked at me and said no. I left the bag of condoms on the table anyway. 

I was one of the last 30 students to leave Solarity and noticed that the bag of condoms I brought was left in place. The majority of the students who go to Oberlin, or college in general, fall within the age range that experiences half of all new sexually transmitted infections per year in the United States. Why would an organization that claims to put the safety of students first deny students access to free safer sex supplies? I wonder if maybe implicit bias was at play. Does the fact that I am a fat, black woman-presenting person have anything to do with why my request was ignored and why two white men denied me the opportunity to provide condoms to students? Would condoms have been available at Solarity if I had asked one of my thin, white co-workers to bring them? There is no clear rationale as to why one of the most popular events on campus would not allow safer sex supplies to be distributed.

There is clearly room for improvement. It is possible that the staff working Solarity were over capacity for handling any new requests. In the future, there should be someone dedicated to answering questions from students. It is unfortunate that students were unable to access condoms that were freely provided for their use. I am hopeful that in the future Solarity will be better able to respond to the inquiries brought by the students whose tuition and fees allow it to exist.