The course aims to raise awareness about HIV / AIDS
LAS freshman Kaitlyn Simons and each member of her group project went to McKinley Health Center and picked up a pack of condoms every two weeks.
This is part of a project to meet their classroom’s “external engagement” requirement, GCL 146: Root Causes of Illness: The HIV / AIDS Pandemic. The end of the project will result in an event Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the main Quad to raise awareness about the disease.
Simons said she took the course because there is usually a lot of confusion around this topic.
“People don’t really have a clear idea of what HIV / AIDS is, which groups are affected by HIV / AIDS, how it is spread,” Simons said.
This course was developed over several years by sociology professor Cynthia Buckley. Buckley created the undergraduate course while she was a professor at the University of Texas, Austin. When she got to college, she wanted to try teaching it again.
Buckley taught it first as a thematic course in sociology. She was then invited to teach it as part of the vice-president’s Grand Challenge learning initiative.
This initiative was designed to revitalize and rethink undergraduate education, Buckley said.
As a result, the class is limited to 25 freshmen. Buckley said she was moving away from exams and focusing on experiential learning. The class is also interdisciplinary, with students pursuing studies in engineering, medicine, law, history and more, according to Buckley.
The class examines HIV / AIDS using Buckley’s sociological training. It examines the transmission, the different facets of HIV and the geographic spread as well as the root causes of the disease.
“We’re really focusing on how the HIV / AIDS pandemic shows us how social factors are the real drivers of international pandemics,” Buckley said.
An important part of the course is the requirement for external engagement.
This assignment requires students to bring the knowledge they gain from this classroom to their communities, whether local, national or global.
“It’s the idea of taking the knowledge gained and using it for the larger community,” Buckley said.
Students have several options for getting involved. They can volunteer for organizations working to raise awareness about HIV / AIDS. Some students write editorials to raise awareness. This year, three groups of students are working together to host an event on the quad.
A group will organize a bake sale to raise funds for a school for AIDS orphans in Uganda. Another group will organize a quiz on HIV / AIDS information with small prizes. The final group, Simons’ group, will distribute free condoms to which they have attached information about HIV / AIDS and safer sex.
The three projects are supposed to raise awareness in three different areas of the issue.
The bake sale draws attention to global issues and the scale of the pandemic, the quiz provides insight into how the disease can affect communities at home, and the condom distribution interacts directly with students to educate them about their resources and how they can be taking action to protect themselves from this disease.
Aidan Berg, a freshman at AHS, volunteers for this event. For his current project, he decided to write a letter to JB Pritzker.
He said Pritzker made several campaign promises regarding HIV / AIDS and LGBTQ youth, but he believes those are promises that are as easy to forget as they are to make. In addition to his letter, Berg will be volunteering at the awareness event on Friday.
Berg explained that learning about illnesses is not just a medical concern.
“Beyond the public health aspect,” he said, “there is a lot of emphasis on stigma and discrimination and how that influences the spread of disease.”
The groups hope they can strike up a conversation on campus about this pandemic. Buckley said the United States still has more than 40,000 new cases of HIV infection each year. Simons said the young adult population is most likely to contract HIV / AIDS.
Part of this project is to de-stigmatize condoms and talk about STIs. Buckley said this is really just another health decision people need to make.
“You brush your teeth, don’t you?” Buckley said. “If you choose to be sexually active, there are also safe health procedures you can take that you should consider.”
Berg said that while they hope to make a splash and reach many students, if they can educate and influence just one person, it will be successful.
The class spends a lot of time explaining how those who are already disadvantaged in society are more susceptible to disease. Berg wants to draw attention to this issue through this event.
“Once people start talking, the stigma and discrimination erodes,” he said. “They are disappearing because people are really ready to talk about it.”