March marks the celebration of Women's History Month at UT as the Commission for Women hosts events all month long to educate students on issues of women's health, equality and stereotypes, to name a few, all in hopes of getting students engaged in diverse thinking and open discussion on seemingly taboo topics.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rosalinda Thomas, the wellness coordinator at the Student Health Center on campus, hosted a panel of experts, including Dean Theresa Lee, Anita Blatnik and Azieb Kidanu, in the International House as they discussed the panel topic, "Smoking, Sleep, and Sex."

The purpose of this particular panel, Thomas said, was to get the women on campus aware of their physical, emotional and psychological health while giving them a forum where they could ask questions and become educated on less openly discussed subjects concerning women.

"I really wanted this panel to make students become aware of how important sleep is, to let them know about women's biological health and to let them know about the dangers of smoking in women," Thomas said.

Thomas invited women with expertise in each of the three fields to offer their insights to the women on campus.

The first to speak at the panel was Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences since last January. She spoke to the topic of sleep and revealed statistics to prove that college students, women and men alike, are dangerously sleep deprived. She encouraged students to sleep, and to do it often.

"I always tell students that staying up all night to cram for a test is not going to work, because by that point they don't really care anymore anyways and it causes them to perform worse than if they had not crammed at all," she said.

Lee explained that the brain transfers short-term memories into long-term, permanent memories while people sleep.

With significant research and credible sources, Lee claimed that sleeping is not only vital to excellent academic performance but also to physical health as a whole. The less one sleeps, the worse his or her ability to recall information becomes.

The panel took a turn when Thomas' friend, Kidanu, public health educator for tobacco use prevention and control at the Knox County Health Department, spoke to an issue affecting both women and the general student population — hookah smoking. She shared that she had partnered with Thomas and numerous other public health efforts on campus to tackle health issues, such as hookah smoking.

Kidanu admitted that she hoped students would hear the lecture and recognize that smoking hookah could be harmful to them.

"Smoking hookah is just as bad, if not worse, than smoking cigarettes," Kidanu explained. "The World Health Organization has released a lot of information concerning this, that said during one 45-minute session of smoking hookah at a hookah bar, you are inhaling as much tobacco into your lungs as if you had smoked four packs of cigarettes."

Kidanu expounded that what makes smoking hookah worse than cigarette smoking is the fact that hookah users are not only putting tobacco and nicotine into their bodies but are also exposing themselves to coal combustion, since hookah pipes are heated by coal. Kidanu hopes that once students hear the news, they will be more concerned about their health than with participating in the trend.

The last panelist to speak was Blatnik, the women's health nurse practitioner at Student Health Services. She encouraged students to practice healthy sexual habits as well as begin pledging to schedule yearly check-ups.

"It is recommended that women who are sexually active to have an annual exam, and after the age of 21 they need to have a pap smear as well," Blatnik said. "Women need to be sure that they are protecting themselves against unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as well as being sure that they are protecting their fertility for the future and to educate themselves in overall general healthy habits."

Blatnik encouraged female students to use the Student Health Center as a resource and a place to talk and ask questions about normal women's health issues and to have access to further information.

Thomas also joined with Blatnik in encouraging students not to feel too shy, nervous or embarrassed to come into the clinic.

"Everything at the Student Health Center is completely confidential," Thomas explained. "So what that means is that no one, including the parents, can obtain access to their medical records. We are a caring place and we don't put judgment on people. We are here to provide healthcare, not to place judgment, and to heal and to cure."