Veterans and members of the LGBTQIA communities across the nation are at increased risk of substance abuse, which can lead to risky sexual behavior.
The Communications Department received an almost $900,000 grant from Sexual Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to bring awareness and education to these groups.
“Students don’t have access to this kind of education,” said Marsha Burney, communications professor. “Unless you take human sexuality in college, you don’t get to have this conversation.”
The three-year grant will be used for an initiative called Sexual Health Assessment and Risk Education. There will be at least 15 community engagement awareness events throughout the grant’s duration. The initiative will work to bring awareness to the link between substance abuse and risky sexual behavior, Burney said.
“In Texas, we focus on abstinence—not reality,” Burney said.
Burney, who will work with the LGBTQIA community, and Paul Villagran, veteran and mass communications professor, are currently networking with students belonging to these groups.
Their goal is to find 120 mentors and collect at least 72 Bobcat role model stories from Texas State students who have gone through substance abuse or sexual health concerns.
“In the veteran community, the big focus is on the substance abuse,” Villagran said. “They are dealing with a different set of challenges, such as readjusting and medical problems.”
Villagran said it is important to bring awareness to the correlation between substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases and infections now, so that young adults will be able to make responsible decisions in the future.
“Sharing is the fundamental concept to this program,” Villagran said. “We are going to share stories. Students are going to share their time and passion.”
Burney is not concerned with finding students willing to help. The previous grant the department worked with, Being a Star, aimed to bring awareness to the Latino community. She said it was a success.
“Fundamentally, more education is better than none,” Villagran said. “It’s our responsibility as part of higher education to give students the tools and knowledge to make good choices.”
Burney said upon receiving the Being a Star grant, members of the department realized the Latino population at Texas State was not significantly more at risk than the rest of the student body.
Abbi Mott, senior grant coordinator, said with the Communication Department’s last grant they were able to order 300 STD testing kits for the health center. Despite early predictions, all but 40 of the kits have been used.
“If a student says ‘I have to make a plan before we go out on Friday or Saturday,’ then it was a success,” Villagran said. “We will never know, but that is what we consider a win.”
Both Burney and Villagran said one of the biggest successes of the past grant was the community discussion it started. They said many of the students who got themselves tested heard about the program from other students.
Villagran is hoping to keep the momentum from the last grant going. He said the hardest part was getting the word out in the beginning.
The department is going to work with student organizations and members of the community, Villagran said. The outreach programs will extend to residents of the San Marcos area.
“Let’s be honest,” Villagran said. “People have trials and tribulations. It is not possible for everyone to go to college.”
Melinda Villagran, author of the grant, said she wanted to support the veteran community as a military wife and also holds a particular interest in the LBGTQIA community.
“I want to do everything I can do to bring support and resources to these two communities,” Melinda Villagran said.