WHITTIER — Next week, Rio Hondo College will join a handful of California institutions to install condom vending machines in campus restrooms as a preventive measure against acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The Rio Hondo Community College District board of trustees last month voted 4 to 1 in favor of installing the machines--the latest in the community college's AIDS education efforts that include the adoption of an AIDS policy statement, an AIDS task force and an annual AIDS awareness day.
"We have felt this is a moral issue," said Yoshio C. Nakamura, vice president for community and student services, and chairman of the AIDS task force. "There may be some who object to condom dispensers, but we felt it was responding to a higher moral order" to educate people about the fatal disease.
However, there is some doubt about whether the college's efforts are getting through to students.
Rio Hondo officials polled students and faculty about whether to install the condom machines, and received only 193 responses from a campus population of about 35,000. About 75% of those who responded favored installing the machines.
"It's a low number of people who took that extra effort, but those are the people who are interested in the topic," said Pamela Jo Cox, college public information officer. "By not participating, one has to assume the issue didn't raise strong emotions for or against it."
Several students interviewed on campus said they were unaware of AIDS education efforts. "We've heard talk about the machines going up, but nothing else," said Deborah Villalvazo, 32, a paralegal student from Pico Rivera.
In addition, Rio Hondo College Nurse Elsie Tiscareno said studies show that the information that is getting to students "is not altering student behavior in the least. . . . We need to use marketing."
Maurice Meysenberg, a Rio Hondo sociology professor and AIDS task force member, said educators should avoid clinical language because students don't understand it.
"If your whole pitch is using terminology people aren't familiar with, the message won't get through." Meysenberg said.
The condom machines are just one part of the college's strategy to confront students with the AIDS issue. Framed posters will be placed next to each machine with information about how to prevent the disease and how condoms reduce the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
"My feeling is most of the students are going to look at (the condom machines) and say, 'Hey, maybe this has something to do with AIDS,' " Meysenberg said. "We're not promoting promiscuity. We just want them to be responsible for their behavior."
Rio Hondo purchased the educational film "The AIDS Movie" and has held several screenings followed by discussion groups. Tiscareno said nearly 3,500 Red Cross pamphlets on AIDS prevention have been distributed, and the AIDS task force has encouraged faculty to incorporate AIDS education into their classes.
The college also held its second AIDS awareness day in October, attended by more than 200 people, and has started a peer counseling program for AIDS education.
College Psychologist Robert Itatani said: "We're not going to judge our success by the number of condoms purchased. The statement here is that we're concerned."
A growing number of colleges and universities have installed condom machines on campus, including UCLA, California State University, Northridge, the University of California campuses at Davis and Santa Cruz, and Occidental College.
Machines selling the latex condoms will be installed in 10 Rio Hondo restrooms, five women's and five men's. The condoms will cost $1.50 for a three-pack and contain spermicide nonoxynol 9, which kills the AIDS virus, according to U. S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Rio Hondo will receive 25% of gross sales, which will be placed in a special account to benefit AIDS education at the college.
Trustee Hilda Solis said the leadership role taken by the college is especially important given Rio Hondo's racial profile. About two-thirds of the college's students are non-white, and a study by the Centers for Disease Control showed blacks and Latinos comprise 38% of the nearly 40,000 reported AIDS cases in the United States.
"The campus is reflective of the community and the community is largely minority," Solis said of Rio Hondo, which serves the Southeast and San Gabriel Valley areas. "The more information we get out, the better."
Students interviewed supported AIDS education on campus, and said installing the machines would give people a private means of buying condoms.
"I think a lot of people are afraid to walk into a pharmacy because of the people looking at you," Villalvazo said. "They hand out shaving cream and everything else here. Why not condoms?"
Rick Hernandez, 20, of Whittier, a business administration major, said he would be more likely to buy a condom in a restroom than in a store.
AIDS has "changed my habits," Hernandez said. "But I know some people who know the facts (about AIDS) and just don't listen. They seem not to be worried."
Jesse J. Vela, 20, a political science student from Azusa, said of condoms, "I've always used one. You just don't meet somebody and just jump in the sack anymore."