HIV Education Lacking at Many College Orientations HIV and AIDS are not among the subjects discussed with incoming college freshmen during orientation, even on campuses in Washington, D.C., which has the highest rate of HIV in the country.
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HIV Education Lacking at Many College Orientations

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HIV Education Lacking at Many College Orientations

HIV Education Lacking at Many College Orientations

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Today's generation of incoming college students has grown up with the threat of HIV. Maybe that's why the virus is not at the time of the list of things they worry about. Here's the problem, though. Many college freshmen don't know as much about HIV as they should.

NPR's Brenda Wilson visited two campuses here in Washington, D.C., to find out what first year students there think or don't think about HIV?

BRENDA WILSON: When the director of the United Nations AIDS program, Doctor Peter Piot, spoke to about 60 Howard University student a couple of weeks ago, he told them the global AIDS epidemic wasn't over, and he talked about his visit several years ago with HIV-positive women in Washington, D.C.

Doctor PETER PIOT (Executive Director, UNAIDS): That the stories that the women were telling me there, frankly, I had never heard before. I was so shocked this is going on in this town. I'd never forget the courage of the women.

(Soundbite of people chatting)

WILSON: He was talking about the fact that the rate of HIV in the District of Columbia is higher than in many African countries.

Jolisa King(ph), an 18-year-old freshman, was stunned to learned that one in 20 people in D.C. are infected with HIV.

Ms. JOLISA KING (Freshman Student, Howard University): I never thought to compare to African as how they have like some of the same situations that we have, you know, that we're going through some of the same exact things as they are. It was very informative and eye opening.

WILSON: There were only a handful of young men in the audience. The young black women were clearly disturbed by this new piece of information. Kristen Parish(ph) and freshman Jasmine Woods(ph) and Courtney Banks(ph) say HIV/AIDS prevention is not a big part of orientation.

Ms. KRISTEN PARISH (Student, Howard University): It's more - I just like, you know, watching - you're having sex with the general - were just STD's in general. I don't think they focus on specifically AIDS/HIV.

Ms. JASMINE WOODS (Freshman Student, Howard University): And I heard it through word of mouth like some friends. Of course, my mom - we didn't talk to him about HIV, she knew I already knew about that. She basically just try to get me on like not coming back pregnant.

Ms. COURTNEY BANKS (Freshman Student, Howard University): It was more of a face-me walking rules, you know, because of the violence.

WILSON: After violence on campus, most colleges are more concerned about mental heath and depression than HIV. So, at George Washington University across town, HIV AIDS was also a hit-or-miss proposition during freshmen orientation. Some got it some didn't.

Laurie Hewitt(ph) who was walking pass the student building got a brief introduction.

Ms. LAURIE HEWITT (Student, George Washington University): I don't know if they told us anything pertaining to HIV. I know they told us to stay protected and stuff like that. And they have - they had free us a CB testing one day. That's about it.

WILSON: That's about it? Okay. So, what do you know about HIV and AIDS in the district?

Ms. HEWITT: Not a lot, actually.

WILSON: Did you know that one in 20 people are infected?

Ms. HEWITT: I do not know that.

WILSON: Most colleges, it seem, operate on the principle that students already know about HIV. Doctor Isabel Goldenberg is George Washington University's Student Heath director.

Dr. ISABEL GOLDENBERG (Director, Student Heath, George Washington University): We offer workshops on sexual transmitted infection. We have condoms in the bathroom. We have condoms in the offices. We participate with any of the sorority or fraternities. We are a resource - we want the students to ask us what they need or what they want.

WILSON: On many campuses like George Washington and Howard University, students like Nakita Ford(ph), a sophomore, are recruited to be health educators.

Ms. NAKITA FORD (Student and Health Educator): A lot of students are sexually active and they're not going to refrain from sexual activity. So, the fact that they don't address it is a problem. And up here, we do try to help you know bridge the gap for what they don't tell us. I mean you're health is really important.

WILSON: Because of the high rates of infection in the African-American community, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided special funding for HIV AIDS prevention at come black colleges.

Recently 25 young black college students were brought to Washington, D.C. by the Black AIDS Institute to be trained as AIDS activist. Among them was 19-year-old Dante Cone(ph), a freshman at Florida A&M University, which he says has made an effort to raise the awareness of students.

Mr. DANTE CONE (Freshman Student, Florida A&M University): I end up sort of - we have different activities at the school host. On our campus it's the first day college, it's the set, it's where all the students on a Friday, they hang out, there's music, everything, you eat. And during that they pass out bags full of condoms and stuff like that.

WILSON: The University also offers individual student counseling but by the time Cone arrived on campus he was already aware of AIDS.

Mr. CONE: A couple of my friends have it. My father has it. I had a brother passed away with it. And my cousin has it. I'm very well educated about it.

WILSON: According to an annual spring survey conducted by the American College Health Association, point three-tenths of 1 percent of students say they had tested positive for HIV in the 12 months prior to the survey. That's about the same as in the general population. But where the prevalence is higher — in places like the District of Columbia — the risk is greater.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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