A recently established collaboration with Morehouse College alongside the largest HIV observance day afforded NAESM the ability to address several key matters. Monthly, NAESM conducts roughly 100 unduplicated Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screenings with students from the Atlanta University Center (AUC). Our STI testing includes rapid HIV testing, Hepatitis C, Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. For the G/C testing, we collect either a sole or combination of oral, anal, vaginal, urethral or urine samples, depending on risk identified. The majority of the tests are from Morehouse College and occur on campus in the clinic during our Wednesday testing initiative. An analysis of in-house data found that while less than 1% of those tested are reactive for HIV and close to 7% are positive for one or more STIs.
We had previously collaborated with Student Health Services on talks about establishing a PrEP Clinic on the campus. Before we implemented this idea, we wanted to get feedback from the students on what they thought this addition onto their campus would look like. Lastly, as a historically male institution where “The Morehouse Man” looks, thinks, acts a certain way, we wanted to gauge campus climate surrounding the recent inclusion of acceptance of varying spectrums of sexual expression and gender identity.
We developed day of activities to address our key matters, entertain the students, and provide them with valuable information. The day began with a PrEP Roundtable that included key stakeholders within the Morehouse community: a member of the Student Government Association, a member of the Greek alliance, a member of their Health Education organization and a member of their Freshman Orientation. The discussion also included two nurses who worked for local organizations that prescribe PrEP , as well as NAESM’s Executive Director. This event segued into a PrEP Rally that included the AUC cheerleaders and mascot to rally people for the Vendor Fair. The Vendor Fair was a culmination of over 40 vendors representing health and wellness organizations, mentorship opportunities, entertainment escapes and more. STI testing was also conducted during the Fair. Simultaneously running was a Health and Wellness panel for students to make inquiry about their health and be provided real answers from mental health and spiritual guides. Pandora’s Box, that also concurrent with the Vendor Fair, was an exclusive event that was planned to address sexuality and expression. The day ended with a Stroll Competition between the residence halls. Participants had to include HIV or STD facts and information about World AIDS Day within their performance. The winner was the recipient of a cash prize and an inaugural trophy.
Despite competing with tornado warnings and end of the year exams, our World AIDS Day celebration at Morehouse College was a success! We conducted over 100 HIV tests, with roughly half of those individuals also testing for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Despite previous trends, there were no reactives identified. Throughout the day, NAESM made over 200 impressions with the students of Morehouse College. These efforts were made possible due to the array of events that were hosted. Information gathered from the activities will afford us the opportunity to further make an impact within our community. We identified a need for more culturally appropriate information around PrEP and other preventative measures exclusive of condoms. Additionally, we’ve established the need for training and capacity building opportunities for faculty, staff and students. The discussion hosted during Pandora’s Box will be utilized to assist in the building of the Safe Zone initiative, in conjunction with Morehouse College. The Safe Zone initiative is a program that supports the creation of LGBTQ+ safe spaces on campus.
We can’t do this work alone! We need zealous, open minded and diverse soldiers to aid in #gettingtozero. Involvement takes on different forms and doesn’t have to encompass getting on the battlefield. We encouraged those interested to dive into advocacy as a means of influencing decisions before they impact the populations they want to serve. Grant writing is another way to not only strengthen your skill set but also fund and sustain ideas. Lastly, some of NAESM’s most successful initiatives have been funded or supported by “nontraditional” partnerships. We highly encourage stepping out of silos to connect with entities that may not currently do work within a given realm of expertise. There is a lot of intersectionality (ex. HIV and tobacco usage, cancer and AIDS diagnoses, etc) of issues, and disregarding this can result in missed opportunities.
NAESM prides itself on intentional and innovative strategies to impact marginalized populations where they live, work and play. While results may vary, the best programs are implemented by trial and error. As a general rule of thumb, REMEMBER the following:
1. Cookie cutter is for baking…DARE TO BE DIFFERENT! – exercise your creativity when planning events
2. Self care is of utmost importance, when not only working in professions that often serve others, but also when adding event planning to the mix. These can become overwhelming. Creativity and execution are clouded by exhaustion!
3. Set clear expectations for all parties involved in all implementation phases of your events. Assuming that you’re on one accord when it hasn’t been explicitly and specifically verbalized can lead to disappointment.