It’s that time of year. Students across the country are settling into colleges and universities, many living away from home and responsible for their own well-being for the first time. As a college student and summer intern for HIV.gov, I’m interested in how college campuses are using social media to promote awareness around HIV/AIDS.
Why HIV Awareness among college-based youth?
According to CDC, in 2011, 8,879 Americans between the ages of 15-24 were newly diagnosed with HIV. Since college students traditionally fall in that age bracket, encouraging them to get tested is important. Under current universal testing guidelines, one would expect health service utilization to predict increased likelihood of HIV testing. One study of students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) supported this association but it remains to be seen whether or not it persists in other college populations. College students’ HIV testing behaviors are important to understand, given their high rates of risky sexual behaviors and epidemiologic evidence of increasing heterosexual transmission of HIV. Among students surveyed at 57 post-secondary institutions, 24% were tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime yet HIV testing rates in various college samples have ranged between 10% and 58%.
Therefore, it is not surprising that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, youth aged 13–24 years accounted for 7% of the estimated 1.1 million persons living with HIV infection . Also in that year, 26% (about 1 in 4) of the estimated 47,500 new HIV infections were among youth aged 13–24 years . These concerning statistics are a call to action to do more on college campuses around HIV prevention, get students involved in their own education, encourage them to engage in healthy lifestyles and also promote those behaviors amongst their social networks.
Opportunities to use social media for HIV prevention:
While researching for this blog, I found that, expectedly, various institutions deal with HIV awareness in their own way; many just provide a health education and campus safety lecture as a mandatory part of their orientation. Plus Magazine’s article, HIV on Black College Campuses provided an overview of how Historic Black Colleges and Universities were addressing HIV. Here are some opportunities for new media to improve HIV/AIDS campus education through increased student engagement:
- Start a Facebook or Twitter Page. Through these popular social networking sites, you can gather support, promote awareness events, direct students to free health services either on campus or in that town, and organize specific “awareness days” to get an HIV/STD test. For example, the Health Educators of Morehouse College have created a Facebook page “for students who are interested in improving the state of health on Morehouse's campus”.
- Start a student video page, website, or blog about HIV/AIDS. Youth spend a significant amount of their time using these mediums, so why not take advantage of it! Videos are a great way to reach a large group of people and teach them something. Make sure your video is engaging and attractive to your target audience. Additionally, it should be in a format that is easy to share. If you need ideas, take a look at the HIV.gov “Video Sharing” page.
- Build on a platform that’s already there. If you don’t want to start from scratch, leverage tools that already exist. Join national campaigns like the CDC’s Act Against AIDS, which has several sub-campaigns for different groups. Submit photos to Greater Than AIDS: Deciding Moments. This photo collection allows people to understand HIV/AIDS through the eyes of those who are living with it. “Deciding Moments helps to get people thinking about the role they play in protecting their health and the health of others.”
- Publicize the existence of HIV/AIDS. Make sure the college community knows they are not immune. One example is this article from North Carolina Central “ âStompingâ Out HIV.
- Organize and promote a campus sexual health awareness week, a now popular college phenomenon. For more about why organizing such a week can be an important step for your school, read the Huffington Post’s “College Students Explain Why Sex Week Events Matter, or listen to Philander Smith College president talk about why he brought a week of health events to his school.
- Use new media to recognize and organize activities for World AIDS Day and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. For more information on both of these days, you can visit the HIV.gov World AIDS Day, Twitter, Instagram, and more to observe the days.
Are you a college student or involved with campus life in any way? How are you using social media to create HIV awareness and safe health on campus?