Howard University’s Department of Pediatrics and Child Health in collaboration with the School of Social Work hosted the seventh International Conference on Stigma on November 18 at Armour J. Blackburn University Center.
The conference delved into the various health conditions associated with stigmas such as HIV and mental illnesses and research/interventions used to combat stigma. The conference included a workshop entitled #AllCondomsMatter: Stigma and Segregation in Sexual Health.
Dr. Michelle R. Carter, Executive Director of Howard’s Student Health Center, was the moderator for the panel discussion between seniors Seraiya Wright, Cameron Clarke and Faith Mitchell as they discussed stigma, HIV, and its influence on the youth.
When it comes to HIV, there is a stigma associated with it in the African American community.
“There is a pattern of history were HIV was and still is so heavily stigmatized,” Clarke explained. “When Ronald Reagan was asked how he would combat the matter, he laughed because it was never a disease that concerned greater society which resulted in the lack of institutional support.”
For the District of Columbia to have one of the highest HIV rates in the nation, youth are still hesitant to get tested for HIV/STI.
“Most people don’t know what the outcome is going to be and do not want to deal with the effects/consequences,” Wright said. Lack of education plays a huge part. If you do not know what to look for then no one is going to bother looking. With the digital world that we live in, there is so much more information readily available to take advantage of our help”.
The discussion led to a ‘Faces of HIV: Mareyln’s Story’ screening which discussed her relationship with an HIV positive partner who chose not to disclose his status leaving Marelyn with the disease. ‘Mareyln’s Story’ resulted in a conversation considering the right time or if an HIV individual should disclose their status.
“Definitely before you have sex. Although it is their responsibility being HIV positive to disclose, but you also have to ask questions and spark conversation around the topic to make decisions about sexual activity together” Mitchell said.
“There is a time and place for everything,” Wright said. “Knowing who you are with and being able to analyze the audience should make the situation as open as possible”.
Condoms are also labeled as a stigma in long term relationships. “Condoms create a perception of distrust. This involves having a conversation that condoms are not about distrust but about protecting yourself. It’s not an accusatory thing but a personal decision” expressed Clarke.
“Condoms create a perception of distrust. This involves having a conversation that condoms are not about distrust but about protecting yourself. It’s not an accusatory thing but a personal decision,” Clarke said.
“For those relationships that do not see condoms as a taboo, students lean towards the Magnums due to marketing and branding. I can’t remember the last time I had seen a Lifestyle or Crown commercial. Magnum acts as a golden ticket. I have to actually pull a condom out and show students that there are other options. Magnums are not the biggest,” Mitchell said.
Concluding the panel, Wright chose to reinforce a call to action emphasizing for us to “speak up and speak out.”
“Even if you know one fact about HIV, that may help someone in the future,” Wright said. “Be willing to get uncomfortable. Nothing great was ever achieved from a comfort zone. Walk in knowing and speaking on what you know and expressing what you can.”