Can We Talk? Addressing Sexual Health Issues of College Students and Young Adults on HBCU Campuses

Minority AIDS Initiative logoHow can I learn about the sexual attitudes and practices of my students? How can I help them avoid unwanted sexual pressures? And, once they choose to be sexual, how can I help them be safely sexual?  Health care professionals who work in campus-based student health services seek answers to such questions, and the AETC MAI Project has an important role to play in helping them find the answers.

In response to the disproportionate burden of HIV among African Americans in the United States, and to the trend of new HIV infections among minority college-aged young adults, the Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI) Project of SEATEC launched a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Training Initiative that targets undergraduate HBCU student health services in its six-state region. Extensive and on-going training is provided to campus-based health services staff who are most likely to encounter students at risk for HIV and STDs. A unique feature of the initiative is the inclusion in training of campus and community referral partners: counselors, faculty, health departments, clinical providers, faith-based organizations, and AIDS service organizations, thereby fostering networking and skilled referrals. This format allows all learners to discuss the complementary roles that each partner offers to improve the early diagnosis, treatment and access to care for young adults.

Prior to training, SEATEC-MAI staff conduct training needs assessments and key informant interviews with HBCU clinical directors and other key staff to develop training agendas with consideration for how and where students are tested for HIV and referred for additional services. Training topics include: prevention counseling, sex attitudes and practices of college-aged young adults, clinical updates, HIV/STI comorbidity, HIV testing options, linkage to care, HIV stigma, the role of religion in HIV prevention, social media in health campaigns, and building effective networks with community HIV care providers. Since 2007, SEATEC has provided training and technical assistance to more than 26 HBCU campuses. Training is provided in a number of formats including classroom-based, regional and statewide conferences, longitudinal series and one-on-one technical assistance.  A North Carolina health services director shared this about their 18-month longitudinal training experience:

“Prior to these trainings, it is unlikely this student would have been identified as at-risk; the staff’s comfort level in testing would have been minimal; and linkages to care would not have happened.”

One-on-one clinical training by an experienced nurse practitioner was also provided to lead nurses who work in student health services. Successes from this work include a campus nurse with minimal HIV knowledge prior to MAI training who is now providing HIV education to student and adult audiences in her state and region, and another nurse who will be featured as one of the presenters in SEATEC-MAI’s inaugural HBCU webinar series in fall of 2013. 

SEATEC-MAI training partners have been critical to the success of this initiative. Partners include the Black AIDS Institute, CDC, AIDS.gov, the Office of Minority Health Resource Center, the AETC-National Multicultural Center, Morehouse School of Medicine, local and regional health departments and community-based organizations. We realize there will always be a need to teach the core HIV curriculum to adult providers who treat students on college campuses. Staff turnover can be high as campuses deal with burnout, funding cuts, and complex student needs. MAI’s next goals are to reach HBCU student health services staff and community partners that have not yet participated in training and to continue providing resources and support to all campuses.

Through the Minority-Serving Institution’s (MSI) HIV/AIDS Prevention Sustainability Demonstration Project, initiated by the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP), HBCU and MSI students are proactive and engaged in HIV awareness and prevention programs on their campuses. The White House Initiative on HBCUs articulates the importance of strengthening the capacity of HBCUs (i.e., funding, infrastructure, etc.) in order to reach its 2020 goal - 8 million more graduates nationwide by 2020 with 2 million of these being African Americans and of the 2 million, an extra 167,000 graduates from HBCUs. One underlying message of this goal is the need to sustain the African American young adult population as part of the overall American citizenry through attainment of higher education. To that end, a complex and complete continuum of care that contributes to the overall well-being of these young adults would include innovative, creative and effective HIV and STD awareness, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and linkage to care education and services.

In what ways can AETCs further address the challenges and devise opportunities to work with the dedicated and often resource-strapped student health services adult providers and their community referral partners on HBCU and other minority-serving institution campuses?