Lecturer: Universities can combat disparities in perceptions of HIV/AIDS


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Living as a minority can be hard — living with AIDS is even harder.

But Andrew Jolivette, an associate professor and department head in American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, said colleges can help eradicate stigmas by offering more programs and organizations addressing AIDS.

Jolivette said the UI could help prevent stigma and increase HIV testing by adding more courses related to HIV/AIDS and ethnic issues and increasing the diversity of the staff and student population.

"It's important we get more exposed. I think the coursework — having more classes — expands perspectives and makes students better able to expand or communicate critical literacy," he said. "What I mean by that is you can think about understanding all kinds of people and issues in a really critical way. More and more people don't come from backgrounds that are just one ethnic or community perspective."

Jolivette spoke to a group of University of Iowa students on Monday about HIV and AIDS-related health disparities among minorities. He said holding these discussions with students tends to make more of an impact than speaking to adults.

"Young people seem to care a little bit more too because it's their generation — it's their future," Jolivette said. "We want to lift everyone up, not just some people, we won't have to hopefully see an epidemic ever like this again."

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, HIV diagnoses among African Americans rose in 2010 — non-Latino African Americans accounted for 26 percent of new HIV diagnoses. UI student minority enrollment comprises only 11.9 percent of the student population.

LaNette Williams, a UI College of Public Health clerk, said it is nearly impossible for minority students to step outside of the minority stereotype.

"I don't know what we could do to help prevent [stereotypes] — a lot of stereotypes toward the black community are strong regardless," Williams said. "I don't know what we could do as a people or as a whole, but it matters, especially because [we're] a college town."

Jolivette said the UI's small population and low prevalance of AIDS cases means students don't often hear about the disease.

"How often do you see African Americans walking on campus? How often do you see Latinos? How about Asians? Native Americans?" Jolivette said. "We must seek to decolonize, not occupy — decolonize not just the land and structures but our own minds and ideologies that are unequal."

Jeffery Meier, site director for the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center, agreed a lack of diversity adds to ethnic stereotyping.

"I think being in a population of people where the [AIDS] prevalence is lower [than] where it would be elsewhere in the country contributes to the stigma and the reason is because people are not as accustomed or don't have a person that they personally know … with HIV," Meier said.

Jolivette told students he was there to show them a face behind the disease.

"If you've never known someone living with AIDS, now you do," he said. "Over the last nine years I have learned AIDS is not me — AIDS is only one other part of my life.

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