Fostering Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Curriculum Development through HIV/AIDS Education
In large research universities, many barriers inhibit interdisciplinary collaboration. It is especially difficult to bring together teaching faculty, those in research institutes, and student affairs personnel in order to affect what undergraduates learn and how they conduct their lives, even though students' development would be well served by focused cooperation across these lines.
The development of HIV/AIDS education provides a wonderful opportunity for this kind of collaboration. These kinds of courses require students to examine their own personal values and ideas about responsible intimate behavior. They challenge stereotyping of minority and gay communities. They can equip students with the skills to question the politics of national priorities in scientific research and health care funding. And, they can introduce students to complex legal dilemmas and various aspects of international relations.
Colleagues at the University of Arizona participating in AAC&U's Program in Health and Higher Education saw an opportunity to collaborate across campus on HIV/AIDS education by "leading from the middle." We brought together people whose positions make them knowledgeable about serving students outside the classroom with teaching faculty, HIV/AIDS researchers, and a Women's Studies administrator experienced in faculty and curriculum development.
Under the auspices of the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW), a task-oriented leadership group met in five working seminars to assess current curricular and co-curricular initiatives in HIV/AIDS education and create new options that cut across traditional boundaries. SIROW is a research and resource center within the Women's Studies Department. Its mission includes interdisciplinary research, faculty development, and action programs within the university and beyond. Dealing with diversity issues is central to its agenda.
Members of the leadership group from Student Services came from Campus Health Services, Residence Life, and the First-Year Center. Teaching faculty included the Director of the Honors Program, a medical anthropologist who also represented the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual Committee, and assistant/associate professors from Women's Studies/Geography, Media Arts, Chemistry, and Mexican American Studies, all of whom include HIV/AIDS as a significant part of their teaching and research agendas. Also included on the leadership group were three other members from SIROW: the Executive Director, an HIV/AIDS researcher who conducts projects in the local community with minority women, and a graduate student in Women's Studies.
In the leadership seminars we exchanged information, brainstormed, and set goals. A sub-committee, in consultation with the team, worked on creating a new course, "Sex, Health, and AIDS" that will meet the requirements of a new general education program. The graduate student surveyed selected faculty across campus to learn how teaching about HIV/AIDS is already infused within courses. The project fostered new collegial connections; identified courses that included content about HIV/AIDS in a variety of departments including Math, Molecular and Cellular Biology, American Indian Studies, Family Studies, and Political Science; prepared an annotated bibliography on research relating to undergraduates and HIV/AIDS; expanded opportunities for students to be involved in research; developed a core group of consultants for faculty interested in teaching about HIV/AIDS; and with a new mini-grant is preparing materials for wider dissemination locally and nationally.
"Sex, Health and AIDS" will be taught for the first time in Spring, 1999, coordinated by Susan Craddock, professor of Women's Studies and Geography. Its content and pedagogy demonstrate the educational pay-off of bringing this team together. The Campus Health and Residence Life personnel stressed the need to deal with students' personal communication about sexual matters. The sponsorship of SIROW, and inclusion of faculty from units especially concerned with diversity issues, assured that issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class would be integral in the course design. Discussions with the chemistry professor provided expertise in science and the media arts discussion highlighted public representations of HIV/AIDS and the shaping of opinion about "deviance." Seeing diversity in international as well as domestic terms was supported by SIROW's experience of collaborative research and action with Mexican scholars and community-based organizations as well as its previous faculty development projects in international studies.
The course syllabus has six sections. Part I connects HIV/AIDS to students' knowledge, attitudes, and behavior in the context of their current life and the responsibilities of higher education to address the intersections of personal and community life. Part II introduces global and domestic perspectives on the history of the epidemic. Part III takes up definitions of the virus, its pathology, and transmission. Part IV focuses on communication--both interpersonal and in the media. Part V addresses social and political contexts. We examine the construction of HIV/AIDS in relation to poverty and drug use and the impact of HIV/AIDS on minority women. We introduce students to the international political economy of AIDS in relation to development, migration, foreign aid, and prevention programs. Part VI turns to legal, ethical, and policy issues in relation to risk behavior. Students will discuss such issues as individual freedom versus public health, clinical research trials, testing practices, and national budgets.
Pedagogically, the course also reflects the team's diversity. Students benefit from a variety of teaching styles as well as the variety of disciplinary expertise. Active and collaborative learning strategies are featured. For example, students will critique official depictions of AIDS in public health posters and work in groups to design their own posters. "Taking a Stand" and role playing activities will require students to reflect on their own and others' attitudes and engage in problem solving tasks such as designing community AIDS prevention and treatment programs for poor inner city neighborhoods in the U.S. or for a grassroots Nongovernmental Organization in Thailand.
To connect the campus with the wider community, an attorney working with SIROW's woman-centered HIV research project will explore the legal and economic constraints to women's reducing risk behavior. A panel of drug addicts will also present their personal stories. The diversity within the leadership team facilitated making these connections.
It is premature to evaluate the team's work before students have engaged with the course, but we believe that this kind of campus-wide collaboration and "leadership from the middle" is essential if we are to truly transform college curricula to prepare students for the diversity and complexity of today's world.
See a copy of the syllabus for "Sex, Health and AIDS."back to top
This kind of innovative coursework and collaboration on a topic that is frequently in the news can offer opportunities to generate media coverage.
Consider alerting a local newspaper's health editor to a new course like "Sex, Health and AIDS," and invite her/him to sit in on a class and write an article about the course. If the editor is interested, be sure to prepare students for her/his visit. Warn them that whatever is said in class that day may be reported, so nobody should discuss personal experiences that they do not want to appear in the newspaper.
Also, consider asking a student who has completed the course to write an op/ed piece (or guest editorials) about how the course might have changed her/his attitudes. Then place the op/ed in a mainstream, community or student newspaper.
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