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Widener University’s Interdisciplinary Sexuality Research Collaborative Receives Grant to Improve HIV Education for Black Gay Men

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Widener University’s Interdisciplinary Sexuality Research Collaborative (ISRC) received a grant for $350,000 from ViiV Healthcare, a global specialist HIV company dedicated to delivering advances in treatment and care for people living with HIV. The grant provides two years of funding to the ISRC for the development of community education and outreach programming in Baltimore and Jackson, Miss. 

The ISRC program is supported by ViiV Healthcare though the company’s ACCELERATE! Initiative. Aligned with the national HIV/AIDS strategy, ACCELERATE! is a four-year, $10 million commitment to support innovative projects that focus on the health and well-being of Black gay men in the cities with the highest rate of those infected with HIV. Currently, one in three Black gay men live with HIV in the U.S.

“HIV rates are increasing among Black gay men,” said Dr. Justin Sitron, associate dean in the School of Human Service Professions, director of the ISRC and the Center for Human Sexuality Studies. “The majority of new HIV infections are among Black gay men. There are systemic inequities in the healthcare and community engagement systems that create barriers for Black gay men. Our program aims to train provider to provide culturally competent care and support men to foster their sexual well-being.”

Through the grant from ViiV Healthcare, the ISRC will provide communities with education and resources to increase awareness of the current HIV treatment guidelines and standards of care in the United States. The ISRC will also develop sexuality education tools to help providers and community organizations address the needs of Black gay men affected by HIV, including an online tool for community members to connect with one another around health and wellness goals. In addition, the ISRC plans to train three dozen providers and establish evaluation processes to help create greater understanding and advocacy among healthcare providers.

“We want to help solve the problem before it gets worse by making sexuality education relevant for black gay men with enhanced content that can be delivered in person and online,” Sitron said. “There are many challenges around getting relevant programming to the community, which is why we need to collaborate with community-based organizations from the start.”

Dr. Linda Hawkins, a co-investigator on the grant and an adjunct professor in the Center for Human Sexuality Studies, has worked as a therapist for adolescents that have become HIV infected and understands how to adapt tools to specific communities. She will be working with Sitron and Javontae Williams, an applied research scientist for the ISRC, as well as additional faculty and students on developing the programming for Baltimore and Jackson.

“We recognize the impact of an approach that empowers and engages the community,” Williams said. “We want providers to understand the stigma some Black gay men face so that they can improve the health care environment and become advocates.”

The partner organizations that the ISRC is working with in Baltimore are the GayLesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland, the JAQUES Initiative, and the Community Cares Project. In Jackson, the ISRC will work with My Brother’s Keeper, Inc. and The SPOT (Safe Place Over Time), a drop-in resource center at the Jackson Medical Mall.

The Center for Human Sexuality Studies, already a leading national training center for sexuality education and sex therapy, established the ISRC to support interdisciplinary research endeavors focused on topics related to human sexuality. The ISRC is comprised of faculty, staff, and both graduate and undergraduate students, and is equipped to execute research projects of various scopes and sizes. The Center for Human Sexuality Studies houses one of the only doctoral programs in human sexuality studies at a fully accredited university in the U.S, and the ISRC provides opportunities to support and empower doctoral students’ research skill development.

According to Sitron, the collaborative was conceived as a way to increase the capacity of Center’s research training program, contribute to the field of human sexuality research using interdisciplinary approaches. “The ISRC conducts research using varied and intersecting theoretical perspectives and has at its core the advancement of knowledge in human sexuality and the application of resulting insights to shape innovation in culturally responsive and highly effective sexuality education. Social justice, reproductive rights, and a holistic stance on sexual wellbeing are central to everything that the ISRC produces.”

ViiV Healthcare is a global specialist HIV company established in November 2009 by GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) dedicated to delivering advances in treatment and care for people living with HIV and for people who are at risk of becoming infected with HIV. Shionogi joined in October 2012. The company’s aim is to take a deeper and broader interest in HIV/AIDS than any company has done before and take a new approach to deliver effective and innovative medicines for HIV treatment and prevention, as well as support communities affected by HIV. For more information on the company, its management, portfolio, pipeline, and commitment, please visit www.viivhealthcare.com

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises seven schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master's and doctoral degrees. Visit the university website, http://www.widener.edu/