Penn State peer educators promote AIDS Resource Alliance services across campus

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four biobehavioral health (BBH) students in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State have been hired as peer educators for AIDS Resource Alliance Inc. to educate college students about safe sex practices and serve as a liaison between the agency and campus.

As peer educators, the students will promote the agency’s services among students, with a special emphasis upon sororities, fraternities and LGBTQ groups.

Jordan Crawford, BBH student and peer educator, said part of his role is to give presentations to student clubs and organizations about safe sex. This includes a brief overview of students’ risks and how to avoid them. The peer educators are also equipped with safe sex items, such as condoms, and can offer information on sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and counseling services in the community following a positive diagnosis.

“This position allows students to gain entry-level experience into health promotion and intervention programs — something that I want to turn into a career,” Crawford said. “My personal goal is to increase the idea of sex positivity around the campus community. In this age, sex and talking about sex openly should not be taboo or looked down upon. I hope that through open communication, new and current cohorts of students will seek information on maintaining sexual health.”

Crawford believes the work of the AIDS Resource Alliance and peer educators is crucial because young people can lack education in sexual health and risky behaviors.

“This education is usually limited to ‘use a condom or be abstinent’ along with a talk about ‘the birds and the bees,’” Crawford said. “It generally lacks the fundamentals of understanding safe sex, including sexually transmitted infection symptoms, treatment programs, and proper prevention.”

Kirsten Burkhart, AIDS Resource Alliance executive director, said the goal of this partnership is to increase the number of students seeking HIV and STI screenings and promote risk reduction. She also hopes student groups will use the agency for educational outreach and programs.

Matthew Downing, also a BBH student and peer educator, said this role helps him put into action his belief that HIV positive individuals should have access to high-quality health care.

“I wanted to work for an organization that supported those individuals in the State College community,” Downing said. “Having recently returned from South Africa, where I spent two months shadowing clinicians in an HIV clinic, I have learned a great deal about the biological, psychological and social or cultural factors that influence both how HIV positive individuals live with the disease and how it is spread through populations.”

HIV is both chronic and infectious, and disproportionately affects minority and low socioeconomic status populations, Downing said.

“I am proud to be working with AIDS Resource Alliance Inc. to educate students about the stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS and promote sexual health awareness around campus,” Downing said. “I am currently in the process of applying to medical school, and I believe my experience will better prepare me for a future career working in the field of infectious disease.”

Other BBH peer educators include biobehavioral health seniors Jon Moran and Kate Powers.

AIDS Resource Alliance is a community-based agency serving Centre, Clinton, Lycoming, Snyder, Union and Potter counties.

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Last Updated November 07, 2016