Healthy Outreach through Peer Education (HOPE) partnered with the Women’s Center and Pride Center to throw a Safer Sex Block Party in the Smith Student Center (SSC) Theatre during common hour on Feb. 7, 2023.
The event was centered around HIV and its disproportionate effect on communities of color. It featured lawn games, music and food, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and other cookout-style cuisine.
Sophomore and Pride Center Student Worker Mercedes Nearhood described the party as “a way for people to connect but also learn about safe sex and how to prevent HIV.”
HOPE combined with Adagio Health Butler, a clinic, to provide HIV testing for SRU students. Tables at the Safer Sex Block Party displayed a card that read, “Free rapid HIV testing—Student Health Center…Just tell the front desk ‘I’m here for Adagio’ [and] no data will be on your student health record.”
Attendees were greeted with “practicing safe sex kits” upon walking in the door. Kits included both male and female contraceptives.
An informational presentation about HIV played throughout the event.
“I watched the presentation go around as I was eating so I learned a lot about the statistics,” senior Christina Vega-Alemany said. “I thought [the event] was really fun…it’s always fun to have extra things instead of just a presentation…it’s more interactive.”
HOPE educator Sarah Dodds, who was present at the event, said the organization chose to base the event around block parties because they “give really good vibes” and “attract students.”
“When students can come and enjoy [themselves] and learn a little bit as well, it’s great,” Dodds said.
Dodds emphasized that HIV education is especially important for college students.
“When people think of health, they tend to think about mental and physical health. But, sexual health is a big part of that,” Dodds said, “for example, HIV is an immune deficiency disorder so it impacts your overall rate of infections…you’ve got to pay attention to all those aspects because they play together so much.”
According to cdc.gov, people aged 13 to 24 accounted for 20% of all new HIV diagnoses in 2020. People of color, those in poverty and members of the LGBTQ+ community are all especially at risk.
Getting tested regularly, taking preventative medicines, and practicing safe sex are all ways to lessen the spread of HIV.
“When you’re a college student, you have so many things going on in your life,” said Nearhood. “Unsafe sex can lead to many things like emotional turmoil, unplanned pregnancy and HIV… and HIV can be deadly.”