Festival gets students talking about sobriety, sex

By Gianluca D’Elia

Students play with a therapy dog during OctSOBERfest, an annual campus health festival, on Oct. 19.

The idea of Oktoberfest usually includes thoughts of beer, pretzels and lederhosen. But the Alcohol, Drug and Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) program’s “OctSOBERfest” did things differently. Therapy dogs, lawn games and famous Terhune Orchards cider donuts were some of the main attractions at the Oct. 19 event outside Daly’s.

ASAP’s spin on Oktoberfest brought together some of the Mercer County area’s top healthcare and prevention organizations to educate about 300 students on a range of health issues including alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling addictions, mental health disorders and sex education.

Bianca Acri, president of Real Education About College Health, said the event was designed to promote safe and healthy drinking and decision-making.

“The most important thing I think people can learn from this event is that we can all be advocates for healthier relationships, safer sex, and just being happy and healthy in general,” Acri said.

Community organizations in attendance included Womanspace, Princeton Healthcare System, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, the Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, and the Council on Compulsive Gambling, in addition to campus clubs and Greek organizations.

Prevention Education Coordinator Susan Stahley, who organized the event, said the community organizations enjoy working with student populations, and that students raise thougtful and intelligent questions about alcohol and drug abuse or sexual health.

“I know students connect with our community partners in ways that impact them meaningfully — whether it’s giving general knowledge about what the partners do in the community, education about the topics they present, or for some students, advice about what career path they want to be on,” she said.

One of the most-visited community partners was Jonathan Ruberte, a counselor from Hyacinth. Ruberte said he hopes college students will not only advocate for safe sex practices, but also generate a wider dialogue about how people can be more open when talking about sexual health.

In addition to providing education programs around the state, Ruberte spends most of his time counseling individuals about taking PrEP, an HIV-prevention pill that is most commonly used among gay and bisexual men. He said treating sexual discussions as taboo can lead to negative consequences, such as not knowing the right resources to seek, or “not being able to protect yourself.”

Ruberte also added that viruses and sexually transmitted diseases can be spread so easily today that it’s difficult to pinpoint particular areas in New Jersey where they might be problematic, making the spread of HIV and AIDS a statewide concern.

“That conversation always fluctuates because of things like social apps,” he said. “That network broadens things. You can essentially meet anyone from anywhere because everyone can easily travel around the state.”

Sharing Ruberte’s hope that students can eliminate the taboo around difficult topics, senior psychology major Yilda Sanchez said, “I hope other people will realize there are resources for them if they need help, whether it’s on campus or somewhere else.”

“This is one of my favorite events,” Stahley said. “I love watching the interaction between students and community partners, knowing that both sides benefit from these connections.”

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