Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Important Allies in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Content From: Timothy Harrison, PhD, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: April 23, 20125 min read


Universities and colleges play an important role in the nation’s response to HIV/AIDS—educating young people; preparing the next generations of health care providers, researchers, teachers, and public health professionals; conducting research that helps us improve our response; and even educating their faculty, staff and communities about HIV/AIDS. In fact, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy points specifically to education institutions as vital partners in reaching the Strategy’s goals. A number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are engaged in significant efforts to educate students and promote HIV awareness across their campuses. These efforts are particularly important given that African Americans face a very severe and disproportionate burden of HIV disease in the United States. Despite representing only 14% of the US population in 2009, African Americans accounted for 44% of all new HIV infections in that year, according to the CDC. Alarmingly, CDC also reports that more new HIV infections occurred among 13–29 year-old black gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) than any other age and racial group of MSM; further, new HIV infections among young black MSM are trending up, increasing by 48% from 2006–2009. Of the total number of new HIV infections in U.S. women in 2009, 57% occurred in blacks, and the rate of new HIV infections among black women in 2009 was 15 times that of white women. These realities make the HIV prevention efforts of the nation’s HBCUs all the more important.Morehouse College Takes on HIV and Hosts White House ConferenceEarlier this year, Morehouse College, an all-male historically black institution in Atlanta, Georgia, commemorated National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) with a number of activities held on campus on February 7, 2012. These included HIV testing for students, participation in the Greater Than AIDS “Deciding MomentsExit Disclaimer ” photo initiative, and a candlelight vigil. The day also featured a panel of students, Morehouse alumni, representatives of local AIDS service organizations, and community members who engaged in a lively discussion regarding masculinity, sexuality, homophobia, and HIV risk. Students from two nearby HBCUs, Clark-Atlanta University and Spellman College, also participated in the discussion demonstrating their support and solidarity in HIV prevention.

HIV awareness efforts are not, however, only a once a year activity at Morehouse. Among the organizers of the campus-wide NBHAAD activities was Health Educators of Morehouse (HEM), which engages fellow students on HIV/AIDS awareness year round through the facilitation of panels and the delivery of condoms to students on campus. HEM has also successfully advocated for increased availability of HIV and STI testing on campus. Also, last Thursday, April 18, 2012, Morehouse was the site of the White House LGBT Conference on HIV/AIDS . Hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, the one-day conference provided advocates, community leaders, and members of the public an opportunity to engage in conversation with representatives of the Obama Administration on issues related to the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) and associated HIV/AIDS-related health disparities.

Strengthening HIV Prevention at Other HBCUsFour other HBCUs have been participating in a multi-year effort to assess and strengthen their campus-wide HIV prevention activities as participants in the Minority-Serving Institutions’ (MSI) HIV/AIDS Prevention Sustainability Demonstration. Initiated by the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) with funds from the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund, the demonstration project is working to advance new strategies to increase HIV prevention activities for minority youth (ages 18-25). Through the initiative, the four HBCUs—Jackson State University, Southern University at Baton Rouge, Fort Valley State University, North Carolina Central University—along with two Tribal Colleges and a Hispanic Serving Institution receive technical assistance designed to increase their capacity to address HIV prevention and sexual health needs of minority college and university students and foster new partnerships to promote these health activities. Each of the MSIs has developed and is now working to implement a program focused on increasing awareness and knowledge of risk factors and prevention methods for HIV/AIDS transmission; reducing high-risk behaviors; and increasing access to counseling, testing, and referral services.

Among the many activities underway at the HBCUs, Southern University has created a “HIV 101” module for an introductory health course mandated for all incoming freshman students. At Ft. Valley, they are adapting two of the DEBIs —evidence-based behavioral interventions that have showed positive behavioral (e.g., use of condoms; reduction in number of partners) and/or health outcomes—Nia for male students and SISTA workshops for female students. Jackson State is also tailoring another DEBI, Popular Opinion Leaders, for the young men on campus while also recruiting and training new peer health educators. North Carolina Central is engaged in a social marketing campaign that delivers HIV prevention information to students via multiple channels including a webpage, Twitter, and print materials as well as adapting SISTA for its female students.

These are just some examples of how HBCUs are responding to HIV/AIDS. What’s happening in your community to educate young people about HIV/AIDS? If you are at an HBCU, how is it addressing HIV? If you are in the community, how are you encouraging and assisting local colleges and universities in their efforts to educate students? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.HIV.gov team member Naima Cozier contributed to this blog post.