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University supports “Important Dialog” but not suspending Blood Drives

Almost a week after a petition was presented to the SGA asking Suffolk University to suspend hosting blood drives, due to an alleged conflict between the school’s diversity policies and a FDA policy, the university announced that it would not be suspending blood drives.

The petition was presented and started by undergraduate student Wyatt Costello.

The petition alleges that hosting blood drives on campus conflicts with the university’s Non-Discrimination and Diversity policies because the FDA currently does not allow men who have had sex with other men to donate blood.

Wednesday evening Greg Gatlin, a university spokesman, told the Voice that “The University recognizes the critical and life-saving importance of giving blood, and that the need is constant. We also support ongoing education surrounding the FDA policy pertaining to bans on certain blood donors, and recognize that some members of our community feel negatively impacted.”

Gatlin went on to say that the university supported the efforts of student groups who aimed at helping educate the public on the FDA’s ban. “Suffolk student groups, including one that is hosting an upcoming blood drive, are planning to address the FDA ban through educational programs and discourse. We support that important dialog.”

The Humanitarian Law and American Red Cross Society student group from the university’s Law School is planning to host a blood drive this fall. The Humanitarian Law Society is also planning to help host an educational panel in November to discuss the FDA’s policies.

“I think a lot of research needs to be done to be sure that the FDA regulation should be taken away,” said Colette Heefner, president of the Humanitarian Law Society. “I don’t want to support something that might have an effect on the health safety and health welfare of our country.”

Heefner also said that the blood drive scheduled for this fall would be as inclusive as possible. Ideas such as having students, who cannot donate blood, nominate other students to donate for them are currently being discussed. Heffner is currently working on a paper for a course in the Law School on whether or not the FDA regulation is warranted or if it should be repealed.

As of Thursday afternoon, Costello’s petition had received over 532 signatures.

The university’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) announced in June that their office would be suspending their involvement in helping host blood drives on campus.

“The Center for Community Engagement has determined that the FDA’s lifetime ban on men who have had sex with other men (MSM) conflicts with our Center’s belief that all our programs should be inclusive of all our students,” said Carolina Garcia, Director at the CCE.

“We are currently in conversations with the Dean of Students office, Law School Dean of Student Office, Diversity Services, General Council and the Chief Diversity Officer to examine our campus wide policy.”

The Office of Diversity Services declined the Voice’s request for interview.

Tim Albers, associate director at the CCE, said that the Center’s stance would continue for as long as the FDA kept their current policies intact.

“In regards to Wyatt’s petition, as a Center that works to develop active citizens I think that we encourage any student who cares about an issue to raise awareness within our community, educate our community around that issue, and advocate for change,” – Tim Albers, associate director at the CCE

Costello is still advocating for his petition and also has plans to continue raising awareness over the FDA ban. Costello launched a Facebook group on Tuesday in an effort to help unite students around campus who supported the petition.

“We need to take action,” Costello said over a telephone interview. “The university has this opportunity to make a statement.” “I think the university will be surprised and shocked with how our student body feels about this.”

On the ban, the FDA said that the deferral of MSM from donation of blood and tissues had been based on well-documented observations of much higher rates of transmissible diseases among the MSM population.

“HIV tests currently in use are highly accurate, but still cannot detect HIV 100% of the time,” the FDA said.

“A “window period” exists very early after infection, where even current HIV testing methods cannot detect all infections. During this time, a person is infected with HIV, but may not have enough virus or have developed sufficient antibodies to be detected by available tests. For this reason, a person could test negative, even when they are actually HIV positive and infectious. Therefore, blood donors are not only tested but are also asked questions about behaviors that increase their risk of HIV infection.”

The FDA also said that The Health and Human Service’s (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability had met to discuss the FDA’s ban in 2010. The Committee ultimately voted in favor of retaining the existing ban.

Editor’s note: Wyatt Costello has previously contributed to The Suffolk Voice

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