From Ledge magazine
In the spring of 2004, Caya Lewis, senior policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation, visited Howard University and got the real deal on HIV/AIDS on campus, using condoms, and what scares students the most about unprotected sex. The group of students included: Makebra, print journalism major from Los Angeles; L. Michael, a print journalism major from Chicago; Freddie, a print journalism major from Royal Palm Beach, Fla.; Stacey, a public relations major from Atlanta; Shannon a biology major from Georgetown, S.C.; Donavin, a psychology and economics major from Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Chris, an undecided freshman from Cheverly, MD. The candid conversation revealed many disparities between what we know and what we do in the heat of the moment.
Caya: Do you guys see it as a threat to people in your age group?
Stacey: The only thing is that the realness of [AIDS] hasn’t really touched us. We know it’s around us, but we just don’t think about it. There’s a lot of denial.
Freddie: Most of us don’t know people, at least on campus, that are infected with HIV. It doesn’t really affect us the way you might think it would, knowing that D.C. has the highest AIDS rate of any state or district in the country.
L. Michael: We remember when Magic got it and when Easy E died from it, but you never really thought that it was that serious. Now it’s becoming more like cancer or hypertension. In a few years it’s gonna be like Chris Rock said, people are going to be talking about their AIDS acting up like it’s just arthritis or something. It’s gonna be real common.
Stacey: For me it would take someone that looked like me, my same age, in college to get infected. It would take someone like that, going to class, going through their normal day-to-day routine living with AIDS, to make it real for me.
Caya: Half of the new HIV cases are in people under the age of 25. You’re not going to know just by looking at someone. People aren’t going to come out and say they’re positive. Statistics show that it’s actually people that look like you—young and African American—that have HIV.
L. Michael: Everybody has sex and you have to use protection, but I don’t know a whole lot of people that are thinking about HIV when they’re having sex.
Caya: What about other STDs? Has anyone been through the testing process or been scared that they had something?
Makebra: Unless it’s something that you can have forever, people just look at it like, well at least it’s not [AIDS]. I can get this fixed.
Caya: But don’t you think, once somebody gets a STD, it clicks in their head that I got this, I could get HIV?
Stacey: Maybe for the first couple of months, but after that you fall back into your same routine.
Makebra: It’s like, when you have a hangover you say, “I’m never gonna drink again.” But after a month… (Everyone laughs.)
The Condom Question
Caya: Let’s talk about the condom issue. Who buys the condoms? The guys? The girls?
Makebra: Both should.
Caya: Both should. Do both really buy the condoms?
Stacey: No. Not really.
Caya: Who usually buys?
L. Michael: The guys.
Caya: So the guys usually take responsibility for buying the condoms?
Chris: That’s a lot of pressure, right? (Everyone laughs.)
Caya: Buying the birth control pill is pressure. So do people feel comfortable buying the condoms?
Freddie: Nah, not really. I feel like, well, in the Health Center they’re free, right? They have free condoms in the health center. I go there like, “let me get some condoms.” (People in the group start giggling.) And people are in there looking at me like I’m crazy. But [condoms] are “free.” (Everyone starts laughing.) I’m thinking “why go to the drug store and pay $7.99 when they’re free?” I’m just in here trying to get condoms. It’s people sitting in the waiting room waiting on prescriptions—maybe they’re in there because they didn’t use condoms.
Makebra: I think if you want to make sure the condom is right, like no holes no nothing, you provide your own condoms. I think everybody should take responsibility for themselves. It should never be an excuse like, “I ain’t got no condoms.”
Caya: That’s good, because there was a time when mostly girls were responsible for birth control.
L. Michael I wouldn’t take no chances with these girls. Shannon: Vice versa.
Caya: When it comes to safe sex, how does the conversation get initiated about using a condom or not? Does it happen by chance, or does it not happen at all?
Makebra: I think it’s like second nature now. We always talk about it.
Caya: Ya’ll just said that everyone knows someone that got burned once, but now you’re saying everyone uses condoms and everybody has them.
Shannon: Nah, they may have them, but…
Caya: But that doesn’t mean everyone’s using them. So why do you think that is?
Shannon: They always have an excuse.
Caya: Like “let’s keep going and I’ll put it on later.”
Makebra: Not thinking, just being in the heat of the moment.
L. Michael I was in the health center this past week and I saw this freshman girl in there, that I had seen a lot walking from the Quad to the [upperclassmen’s dorm] and back to the Quad. I saw her pick up this HIV/AIDS pamphlet and start reading it, and I thought, “ah, this chick got AIDS.” (The group laughs.)
Caya: Hold on: Freddie goes to the health center to pick up condoms, and people look at him strange. You see this girl reading the flier and you assume that she has AIDS. What’s going on?
Makebra: There’s a stigma about going to the health center.
Freddie: College students don’t go to the doctor regularly. So if you’re in the health center you gotta be really, really sick. So you’re gonna wonder…
Shannon: It all goes back to the myth that you just don’t think it can happen to you. You don’t realize the person with HIV looks just like you. You just think that you’re in a relationship, you know this person, and it’s just me and him.
Caya: Did you guys hear about the outbreak of HIV in the colleges in North Carolina? It got everyone’s attention, because researchers didn’t understand why people in college, people that had so much going for them, would be putting themselves at risk. Also the young men in that study were having sex with other men, but a certain amount of them were having sex with girls, too.
Shannon: The worst problem is men who have sex with other men and don’t think that they’re gay.
Freddie: Yeah. You gotta choose, man.
Caya: So, you think that you should pick either a guy or a girl, like that’s the biggest problem. What about the guys that pick a girl and another girl and another girl, too?
Donavin: That’s not wrong. (Everyone laughs.) As long as you’re open with the other person and honest, no one really cares. You have to protect your own self.
Caya: Do you think people are more concerned with getting pregnant or getting AIDS?
The Group: Getting pregnant.
Trust is a fourletter word on campus
Stacey: How do you tell your husband that you want to get tested?
Caya: You’re talking about your husband, but really, people that are entering into a sexual relationship—the two of you need to get tested, look at each other’s results, and then decide whether or not to have sex. That’s really the way to have safer sex and to make sure the person you’re sleeping with doesn’t have an STD. Yeah, you can use condoms, yes they can protect you, but it is important to know your HIV status and your partner’s status, too.
Makebra: Do you think that if you’re in a monogamous relationship and you ask your man or woman to take thetest, are you saying you think that person is cheating on you?
Caya: Well, what do you think? I don’t think that way, but do you feel people would react that way? Stacey: I think that might offend some people. (With a questioning glare) Like, “you’re askin’ me to get an HIV test?”
Caya: Even after everything we just talked about?
Freddie: Of course if you’re running around or you’re scared you might have it, of course you’re not gonna want to get the test. But if you’re confident in yourself, you know that you don’t have anything to be worried about.
Caya: This is something that starts from the jump. It’s not like you’ve been having sex and all of a sudden you say, “I think that we should get tested.” If you start this in the beginning, if someone acts funky, just be like “look, I’m just trying to be safe.” Come out with your statistics. (Everyone laughs.) Just say, “AIDS is the number one killer. People have it. I want to be safe. I want you to be safe. I just want to know.” If you start off from that standpoint, it’s a lot easier. But even later you have to do it. HIV is too much of a risk for you all—you guys are the people, your age group—that is most at risk for HIV. It’s true. It can be scary, but it’s true.