In the African American community, HIV/AIDS has become an epidemic, and the fastest growing HIV/AIDS population is African American women. AIDS is the leading cause of death in African American women ages 25-34 (Office of Minority Health). According to recent surveys, African-American women are 23 times as likely to be infected with the AIDS virus as white women and account for 71.8% of new HIV cases among women in 29 states in America.
In an effort to prevent the spread of this deadly disease, Grambling State University’s Campus AIDS Prevent (CAP) and Sistas informing, Healing, Living, Empowering (SiHLE) host workshops and retreats that are geared towards informing students about HIV/AIDS.
According to program coordinator Dana Howard, GSU has been conducting campus-based HIV prevention education programs for over 15 years.
Recently, SiHLE hosted its second annual Relationship Retreat for GSU Women. It was funded by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health and Center for Health Trainers.
Dr. Jan E. Duncan and Dr. Cynthia Lockhart served as presenters, and Lorin Stewart and Tiffaney Renfro presided over the workshop.
Duncan said that such retreats are held because females leave such activities and slip up and “ride bareback.” She said, “We have to hold this in ourselves through our behavior. You get information, but you do not get understanding. Please hold this retreat in your spirit.”
She said that one problem is that people do not love themselves and look to others for validation. “Validation comes from within. It begins inside.”
According to Duncan, using drugs such as marijuana or alcohol and using sex as a means of survival while in college can lead to the contraction of the AIDS virus.
Stewart and Renfro have been working at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health for seven years. Both are lead health educators, and they host HIV/AIDS workshops monthly to educate young women about the impact of HIV and encourage them to change their behaviors and reduce their risks. “We encourage them to share the information that we give them with their friends and partners,” said Stewart.
“Participants learn the facts about HIV and also have a chance to talk to their peers about all kinds of issues that are effecting them, including STDs, relationships and self-esteem,” said Renfro.
Stewart and Renfro are hired as consultants by the Center for Health Trainers to
provide training to peer educators to implement the SiHLE curriculum.
SiHLE brings women together in small groups to talk about educating, protecting and supporting each other, while helping young women to see their unique beauty.
Lori D. Keith, a senior from New Orleans and a peer educator and member of SiHLE, said that she enjoyed the retreat. “I liked the fact that the young ladies were receptive, and they gave good feedback, which made my job easier and the sessions more comfortable,” said Keith.
Keith believes more workshops should be held at GSU. “It necessary to afford people the knowledge so that they won’t be oblivious to the facts that this virus is out there and it is killing in record numbers,” she said.
Keith said that her group hosts four-hour sessions on Saturdays for black women, do HIV/AIDS testing, holds different forums and passes out statistics to keep everyone aware.
Natalia Stroman, a senior from Atlanta said of the retreat, “I loved that it was comfortable. I had no reason to feel like I couldn’t share if I wanted to. And I think it is important to be comfortable when talking about sexual matters. Also that we broke up in groups, I think that played a part in the setting as well,” she said.
Stroman said nothing is common knowledge and GSU would be a better campus if students were exposed to LIFE lessons.