Moved by concern about AIDS, Occidental College is joining a small circle of colleges and universities that have installed condom dispensers in men's and women's restrooms.
Next week, workers at the Eagle Rock campus will bolt 54 condom vending machines to restroom walls in the student union, library, athletic building and residence halls. The condoms, at 50 cents each, will generate enough income to pay for the dispensers, said Ann Stromquist, associate dean of students.
The barrage of publicity about sexually transmitted AIDS led administrators at the usually tradition-bound college to approve the purchase of the condom vending machines at a cost of $6,000.
Placement of the college-owned dispensers over the campus will offer Occidental students easier access to condoms than is afforded students at more liberal institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley.
"I have found over the years that we tend not to be in the forefront of issues around the country," said Brigida Knauer, dean of students. "But we have a health center that is fairly progressive in its views."
Although many college and university health centers have long sold condoms over the counter, college administrators nationwide are turning to condom dispensers in an effort to prevent the spread of AIDS. The machines offer privacy in purchasing condoms and therefore may promote condom use among sexually active students, some officials and students say.
"I think students would rather buy them from the machines because they're embarrassed to go to a store and buy a box," said Kurt Dantzler, 20, an Occidental junior.
Only a handful of California institutions sell condoms from vending machines, including UCLA, California State University, Northridge and the University of California campuses at Davis and Santa Cruz. Berkeley is planning to install the machines this year, but only in dormitories, a university spokeswoman said.
At other colleges and universities, however, proposals to install the dispensers have met with considerable resistance.
The student government at California Polytechnical University, Pomona has opposed installing the machines, deciding instead to study the issue further, said Robert Naples, acting vice president for student affairs. For now, Naples said, condoms will remain for sale only at the university health center.
Even at Occidental, some administrators studying the vending-machine proposal earlier this year hesitated at first, Stromquist said.
"Some were afraid it would look as if we were advocating having sex by making condoms available, but that's not what we're trying to do," Stromquist said. "We are advocating safer sex."
Designing AIDS policy
The issue arose at Occidental in 1986 after employees of the campus health center began distributing condoms to students during the college's "wellness" week, said Margaret Ford, director of Emmons Health Center.
But Knauer, the dean of students, said she objected to that approach and suggested that health-center officials join with administrators to design an AIDS policy.
A campus survey found that 95% of Occidental's students favored installing condom dispensers in restrooms. The finding prompted administrators to pursue the idea, Ford said. Last spring, Occidental President Richard C. Gilman approved the plan. The installation of the dispensers will mark the first time condoms have been sold on the 100-year-old campus, Ford said.
Informational pamphlets about AIDS, published by the American College Health Assn., also will be distributed to Occidental students. The brochures document the risk of contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and offer advice for sexually active students.
So far, Occidental has no record of any student contracting AIDS, Ford said.
"I think there's broad recognition on this campus and others as well that AIDS is the No. 1 health disaster," Knauer said "And, as an educational institution, we have the obligation to inform people in an appropriate way."