Office of Health Promotion provides alternative to canceling classes

What happens if you are a busy professor who absent-mindedly booked your dentist appointment at the same time you are supposed to lecture to a class? What happens if you win plane tickets to your favorite city, but your 3 p.m. class meets the same time as your flight departs?

You contact the Office of Health Promotion to request that a guest lecturer teach your class during your absense.

“Faculty can’t be all things to all people,” said Linda Hancock, assistant director of the health promotion office. “Filling in for a professor’s absence really is a great way to get the word out to busy students about all the services student health currently offers them. We’re the best kept secret here at VCU.”

How do Hancock and other speakers interest students in health issues on what would be, in most instances, a class without a professor?

“Oh, c’mon. Every college student wants to talk about these issues! Students are always interested in sex!” said Hancock, who handles all lectures involving smoking, sex, STDs and stress.

Hancock and her colleagues craft the presentation to appeal to the individuals in the specific class. For instance, a marketing class may view a PowerPoint presentation on marketing strategies that alcohol companies use to lure young people. A math class may find themselves working an algorithm about people infected with the AIDS virus.

“We try to make it to all the VCU 101 classes, and many times if it is an athlete section we’ll gear the program toward nutrition, particularly toward performance-enhancing drugs,” said Betty Reppert, assistant director of Student Health Services. “We talk a lot about eating disorders and body image, since that ties in so well with the fashion industry during a fashion merchandising class.”

“Sex Jeopardy” and “Love ‘n’ Liquor” as well as “Coping with Stress” are three of the most popular presentations.

“Freshmen especially seem to get involved and seem to be the most outspoken,” Hancock said.

Daphne Rankin, who teaches a human-sexuality class as well as one dealing with AIDS, frequently uses the service to provide her classes with lectures on sexual assault, relationship violence and STDs.

“I enjoy using this service because the speakers seem to really click with my classes,” Rankin said. “This program forces my students to listen to issues that they are either uncomfortable with or don’t know a lot about. It also puts a face to a name and informs students on where to go if they ever have a problem.”

After coming to VCU in 1989, Rankin developed an AIDS course in 1992. Though she worries the most about the spread of STDs among college students, she said her students nowadays seem to be much more open to talking about sexual issues in contrast to those in 1989.

“I think it is really important to get a hold on risk-taking behaviors and to further understand risk-taking behaviors among college students,” Rankin said. “It’s important to talk about sexuality in general. By the time you get to college it is really time to start confronting some of these issues.”

The health-promotion offices offers 27 programs ranging from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each that cover topics such as general health and wellness to tobacco, alcohol and sexual assault. Not all presentations receive an equal amount of class time. Some are repeated favorites, and others never seem to reach a classroom.

“We revise it every year. We take out things that people seem to be no longer interested in, and we put a new twist on it,” said Reppert, who handles the “Health Jeopardy” presentations in the VCU 101 classes.

Hancock added that the least requested presentations deal with tobacco and nicotine addiction.

“A lot of people are bored with the whole quit smoking lecture,” she said. “They think that there isn’t anything new to learn about the effects of prolonged cigarette use.”

The two directors said they work toward educating students about healthy habits by incorporating humor and student interaction.

“We are also looking to educate the faculty as well,” Reppert said. “The more they know about us and the quality of our presentations the more they’ll use us.”

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