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      ISRC Receives Grant

      The Interdisciplinary Sexuality Research Collaborative Receives Grant from ViiV Healthcare

      Dr. Justin Sitron

      Associate Dean in the School of Human Service Professions

      The Interdisciplinary Sexuality Research Collaborative (ISRC) at Widener University 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 award is for the first of two years that the ISRC will develop community education and outreach programming in Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi. 

      The outreach program is aligned with the national HIV/AIDS strategy. ViiV Healthcare’s ACCELERATE! program is a four-year, $10 million commitment to fund innovative projects that support the health and well-being of black gay men in the cities with the highest rate of those infected with HIV.

      “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. While HIV prevention and treatment communities have worked to reduce infections among white 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 providers and support men to foster their sexual well-being.”

      Through the ACCELERATE! program, ViiV will provide communities with education and resources to increase awareness of the current HIV treatment guidelines and standards of care in the United States. Currently, one in three black gay men live with HIV in the U.S. The efforts of the ISRC will be to develop sexuality education tools so that providers and community organizations are better equipped to provide services that meet the needs of the men they aim to serve.

      “This is one of the world’s wicked problems,” Sitron said. “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.”

      Widener’s involvement includes a multi-tiered approach, from building partnerships this summer in both Baltimore and Jackson with community-based organizations that serve these communities. A key aspect of the project is developing an online tool that allows community members to connect with one another around health and wellness goals.

      “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,” Sitron said.

      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 the 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.”

      At the end of program, the ISRC hopes to have three dozen providers trained, evaluation processes in place and a dynamic online community where men can experience social support.

      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.


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