This year I will take a comprehensive look into the perceptions, assumptions, and knowledge of HIV/AIDS on a college campus. The research will survey college students, primarily at Pace University NYC, to gain a better understanding of their knowledge of HIV & AIDS. Once we have gathered and analyzed the data, we will use this information to create a workshop on HIV/AIDS prevention and education that can be presented to Pace students and staff.
I am interested in this area of research because of my experiences at the Pace LGBTQA and Social Justice Center. I currently work at the Center as a Student Assistant where I am able to meet and interact with many students at Pace. As a result, I have seen a strong disconnect between the students’ perceptions and ideas surrounding HIV/AIDS, and the information that is actually true. Furthermore, as a student I have found that this is not a conversation that is happening on campus, but the need to educate students still exists. Only after I looked into the research myself was I able to see how little I knew about HIV/AIDS and the stigma that surrounds it. Lastly, Pace does not offer “pre-exposure prophylaxis” (PrEP) or “post-exposure prophylaxis” (PEP) at the University Health Center. These are two HIV prevention strategies that can be potentially life-saving to those who are exposed to HIV. It is my hope that the results of this research will demonstrate the need for these medications on campus and push Pace to provide them for students.
While there is a great deal of information on HIV/AIDS in academia, not a lot of research has been done on college campuses specifically, which makes this research that much more important. Overall, rates of HIV infection have declined in recent years, but the rates of invention among young adults has not seen a proportional reduction. A study completed at a Midwestern university in 2009 showed that while 77% of students reported that they were “very familiar with HIV/AIDS” many had clear misconceptions about transmission and prevention, including 14% of the students reporting that HIV can be transmitted via mosquito bite. Moreover, college students are among the highest demographic with a prevalence for risky sexual behavior, but many students do not perceive themselves to be at risk. Concurrently, the 1980s AIDS epidemic in New York provides a great deal of social context for my research. It is unfortunate that much of the negative stigma surrounding the virus still exists today. I expect to see this reflected in our research, but hope to change these feelings through the final workshop. It is clear that more research needs to be done in regards to this population in order to appropriately educate students. Since there have not been many studies completed with a focus on college students, my research will aid in closing this gap.
The first step in the research is to develop a comprehensive questionnaire. These questions will help to see how much students know (or think they know) about HIV/AIDS. Additionally, the survey will ask questions about perceptions of contracting and transmitting the virus. Once enough data has been obtained, I will be able to better understand the areas that need to be addressed. From this I will work to develop a presentation that will educate students on the truth, and resolve many of their misconceptions. The workshop will be presented to a group of students and they will be surveyed before and after to test for effectiveness. I hope the research and workshop will help in changing students’ perceptions and allowing Pace to better serve it’s community.