Students Protest UHS' New HIV Testing Policy

Over 20 students gathered in front of the Holyoke Center Wednesday evening to protest Harvard University Health Services’ decision to discontinue anonymous HIV testing.

Waving signs that read “My right to privacy includes my right to anonymity” and “I’m pro-testing,” the group of students from the College as well as several graduate schools assembled by Massachusetts Ave. after abandoning their plans to conduct a “test-in.”

Protestors had originally planned to request HIV tests en masse in order to demonstrate the demand for anonymous testing. But a majority of protesters were turned away by UHS because they did not have an appointment or an actual medical ailment, according to Craig B. Colbeck, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student.

Linda Ellison, who teaches in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality department, organized the event after hearing about the policy change from UHS Director David S. Rosenthal ’59 at a May 11 meeting. She said she hoped that the protest would make people aware of the importance of anonymous testing.

“I hope that it’s raising awareness,” she said. “UHS is trying to make this a very undercover issue.”

Jia Hui Lee ’12, a political chair of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, said that the decision to halt anonymous testing puts people at risk.

“It fails to acknowledge the fact that there are individuals in the community who need this service,” he said. “We’re here to show UHS that there is this need and demand for anonymous HIV testing.”

Medical School student Selena Jorgensen, who joined the protest after hearing about it in an e-mail, said that ending anonymous HIV testing would cause people to avoid being tested, a situation that she said would be unacceptable.

“If even one person doesn’t get tested because there’s no anonymous testing, the system has failed,” she said.

Rosenthal said in an interview yesterday that free anonymous HIV testing is still available in the Boston area.

As for the protest, he said that he does not anticipate that it will have bearing on UHS policy because he hasn’t received formal complaints from the protestors.

“I’ve never heard anything from students protesting this,” he said. “They’ve sent no comments directly to me.”

But protestor Alethia Williams ’11 said that even if UHS does not change its policy, the protest would not be in vain.

“It’s definitely worth the fight, if nothing else,” she said.

—Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at srivatsa@fas.harvard.edu.