Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 9, Number 1

Diversity Digest
Volume 9,
Number 1

Download our print issue (PDF)
Campus-Community Connections
The Civic Work of Diversity
Educating Multicultural Community Builders: Service Learning at California State University Monterey Bay
Education for Democracy: Place Matters
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Curricular Transformation
Narrative and Community: Civic Engagement and the Work of Diversity
Promoting Cross-Cultural Understanding for Students of Science and Technology
Research Shows Benefits of Linking Diversity and Civic Goals
Diversity and Civic Engagement Outcomes Ranked Among Least Important
Academic Service Learning for Effective Civic Engagement
Faculty Involvement
There Is No Substitute for Experience
Student Experience
The Personal Is Still Political: HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention
Institutional Leadership and Committment
Communicating Common Ground
Resources for Diversity and Civic Engagement
The Civic Engagement Imperative: Student Learning and the Public Good

The Personal Is Still Political: HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention

By Bianca I. Laureano, graduate student and instructor, University of Maryland, College Park

National Condom Week event with peer educators at the University of Maryland

National Condom Week event with peer educators at the University of Maryland

My mother still tells the story of how my third-grade teacher assumed that because I grew up in a bilingual household and had an “ethnic” name, I should be assigned to English as a second language (ESL) classes. My parents argued to school administrators that my bilingual abilities were not limitations and that placing me in ESL classes because of my ethnic background was a form of racism. As a child I did not completely understand what was going on, but I can distinctly recall the defiance and pride in my mother’s voice whenever she told the story. She knew that she had done something powerful and important.

Decades later, I understand more fully how influential my parents’ actions were. They helped me find my own voice and showed by example the importance of being an advocate for change. Yet, I am frustrated by the fact that today such actions are often not considered to be examples of civic engagement. Instead, civic engagement is usually about encouraging young people to vote. Have we already forgotten that the personal is political?

Organizing for HIV/AIDS prevention and education is an act of civic engagement for me—for personal and political reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that eight to nine hundred thousand people residing in the United States are infected with HIV, and the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that about twenty thousand new HIV infections occur each year among people under the age of twenty-five (Weinstock, Berman, and Cates 2004). It should come as no surprise that young people are mobilizing and educating their community about HIV/AIDS. Let’s be honest, people in the U.S. may not die because they fail to vote, but they may die because they fail to educate themselves about HIV/AIDS.

When I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, I arrived with very limited knowledge of health and wellness. I quickly discovered, through peer-led discussions as well as access to the Internet and to a comprehensive health-care facility on campus, that I had previously been denied critical information due to the location, status, and lack of resources in my community. I got angry.

School administrators, health-care professionals, and community leaders who claimed to be interested in my academic success failed to provide my parents and me with information and resources that could assist us in making the best decisions possible about our health—a factor that I believe directly intersects with educational excellence. The heteronormativity within my home contributed to the invisibility of HIV/AIDS in my life, as did the national perpetuation of the idea that the disease could only be contracted by the queer community and people using intravenous drugs. Before college, the closest I came to a conversation about HIV/AIDS, or any curricular engagement with sexuality, was the Reagan administration’s “Just Say ‘No’” campaign.

The media, government, researchers, and others in positions of power were holding my community accountable for information we rarely received about HIV/AIDS and general health. And they did not seem interested in examining their own roles in maintaining our ignorance. The limited financial resources available to organizations educating for sexual health in the community produces limited knowledge in that community. A patriarchal and heterosexist society that does not give high priority to the well-being of youth of color, especially of young women, reinforces the lack of knowledge that today is killing millions of us.

I was in a position of privilege. I was attending an institution for higher education and so had a responsibility to educate my community. When I realized a majority of the students of color and working-class students around me also lacked knowledge about similar topics, I understood how racism, classism, and institutional oppression operate. I decided I had to ensure that all students and members of my community knew about obtaining and maintaining optimal health.

The networks I created grew into peer-education opportunities and events designed to raise awareness of health and HIV/AIDS. My advocacy efforts have influenced my teaching philosophy and my understanding of positive youth development. My work with AAC&U’s Program for Health in Higher Education has provided me with an opportunity to work on HIV/AIDS programs at a national level.

Through this work I have been able to critically analyze and question my assumptions and beliefs about race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis/ability, and structures and institutions of oppression. These skills are essential to living in a global society where communicating across multiple communities and borders is difficult but critical. There are multiple ways of being an activist and a leader and multiple ways of working toward social change. We must never forget that providing knowledge is both a personal and political act. n


Weinstock, H., S. Berman, and W. Cates. 2004. Sexually transmitted diseases among American youth: Incidence and prevalence estimates, 2000. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 36 (1), www.agi-usa.org/pubs/journals/ 3600604.html.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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