I can vividly remember my first HIV test. December 8, 2008. It was during the winter of my freshman year in college in the middle of a blizzard. I don’t recall exactly what lit the fire under my behind that day, but I recall mumbling something to myself about how I needed to know today as I navigated those snow-covered roads in my little white Toyota Camry to my local Planned Parenthood.
“I’d like to take an HIV test,” I said in a tone just above a whisper to the woman at the counter, afraid someone might overhear me and word would get back to someone I knew. Somewhere along the way, my generation had adopted the flawed logic that not knowing was better than knowing and getting tested was virtually an admission of guilt that you already had it. Sadly, this mindset and others like it — in addition to a host of other factors — are the reason thatBblack college students are disproportionately affected by HIV in comparison to their counterparts from other racial backgrounds.
HIV on HBCU Campuses
Despite making up only 12-13 percent of the population, Blacks in America account for 42 percent of the population living with HIV and 43 percent of newly diagnosed cases. College students are specifically at risk for acquiring the autoimmune disease for an array of reasons, including inconsistent condom use, limited access to sexual education in secondary school, underestimation of the risk of acquiring HIV, multiple sexual partner,s and low rates of HIV and STD testing. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 10 percent of high school students and 24 percent of college students have been tested for HIV.
Thes alarmingly high HIV rates that plague the Black community paired with the risk factors associated with students enrolled in post-secondary educational institutions make Black students particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV. In an effort to protect our students and spread awareness, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation launched an initiative last summer to confront HIV on the campuses of Historically Black College and Universities. Aimed at HBCU administrators and staff, the HRC’s “Making History + A Pragmatic Guide to Confronting HIV at Historically Black Colleges and Universities” guide recommends a number of steps and practices to be implemented on HBCU campuses to move the needle towards an HIV-free generation. According to the guide, HBCU’s were specifically targeted because they “are uniquely positioned to lead HIV education, prevention, treatment, and care.”
“In the fight to end HIV and AIDS, we must ensure our work touches every college and university campus — and especially those primarily serving Black college-aged students, who are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic,” Leslie Hall, Associate Director of the HRC Foundation HBCU Program said last year in a press release denoting the guide’s debut. “This new guide, shared last week with HBCU leaders, will help these institutions provide equitable treatment, expand access to care and offer educational resources for people living with HIV and LGBTQ students.”
The guide’s recommendations to assist higher education administrators in confronting stigma, raising awareness and preventing new HIV cases on college campuses include:
- Developing and implementing formal HIV-inclusive policies
- Decrease stigma and discrimination
- Promote and provide comprehensive HIV and LGBTQ-inclusive sexual health education on campus
- Identify and collaborate with campus and community partners
Some recommended methods for achieving these objectives include: routine HIV testing in standard medical practices, HIV-specific training for health services staff members, establishing peer support groups for students living with HIV, implementation of a sexual health week and adding sexual health education activities to orientation week.
So, have HBCU’s answered the call to implement the practices listed in this guide to eradicate HIV on their campuses? The answer is yes. Take North Carolina Central University, for example. The institution, which was the second in the country to develop a LGBTA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Ally) Center, integrates a symphony of noteworthy HIV awareness efforts to confront the virus on campus.
“North Carolina Central University’s administration strongly encourage students to know their HIV/AIDS status by participating in the awareness efforts led by the Student Center,” NCCU’s Director of Communications Quiana Shepard shared with MadameNoire. “Of note, the center utilizes Integrated Targeted Testing Services (ITTS) through a Durham Department of Public Health HIV impact grant where HIV and STI testing is provided to students throughout the academic school year. More than 700 students are tested each academic year.”
In addition, the Student Health Center hosts a variety of campus-wide events that serve to both educate and inspire students to take ownership of their HIV status — including one that merges sexual health education and theater for college freshman.
“The Student Health Center Health Educators, also host their signature sexual health education and programming, including Keeping It Real, Sexpectations and World AIDS Day,” Shephard went on. “Keeping it Real is a collaborative theatre production led by NCCU campus partners, the LGBTA Center, Men’s Achievement Center, Women’s Center, and the Counseling Center with their peer educators. The production addresses safe sex practices, diversity and inclusion and other topics that will help first-year students get acclimated to college life.”
Of course, tackling the issue of HIV on HBCU campuses is an inside-out job, which is why North Carolina Central University administration has taken additional measures to be sure that students have access to healthcare professionals who are adequately trained in sexual health following the release of the HRC’s guide.
“The university has taken additional action to ensure that student health providers and peer educators are adequately trained in sexual health awareness and about PrEP and the use of anti-HIV medications to keep those who are HIV negative from becoming infected,” said Shepard. “The Student Center medical team also provides sexual health education and works closely with health educators and student organization Project S.A.F.E (Save a Fellow Eagle) to best serve students who are sexually active.”
What’s most impressive, however, is that NCCU administration is not only committed to providing their students with adequate sexual health education and care, they’re actively working to make improvements for at-risk students on HBCU campuses across the country.
“Since the Human Rights Campaign guidelines were issued, North Carolina Central University has increased HIV/AIDs education initiatives through collaborative efforts with its partners in Durham, N.C., where NCCU resides. Most recently, the university’s Student Health Center partnered with Duke University on a grant to establish best practices for improving access and maintaining at-risk students on HIV prep-exposure prophylaxis at historically black colleges and universities,” Shepard shared. “With the assistance of the grant, both universities assessed the HIV risk perceptions and awareness of treatment options of students. The results of these efforts are also awaiting publication in the Journal of American College Health.”
The fight to achieve an HIV-free generation certainly won’t happen overnight, but when we effectively use our resources and access to empower, educate, and liberate, progress is inevitable.