Multicultural Education outside the Classroom: Building the Capacity of HIV Prevention Peer Educators

Article excerpt

What if... there were an end to AIDS? you were me and I were you? parents understood? there were no "isms"? there were no homophobia? we didn't fear what is different? everyone respected each other? everyone had clothes, food and shelter? everyone were treated equally? every child were loved? The Possibilities Are Endless...

These questions, articulated by young adults to reflect the theme, "What If...", graced the backs of T-shirts worn by high school HIV prevention peer educators and program advisors during a multicultural empowerment education program designed to enhance HIV prevention peer education programs. The purposes of this article are to explain the rationale for the Wisconsin Youth HIV Prevention Institute, a program to enhance HIV prevention peer education, describe the intensive multicultural education program, summarize evaluation findings related to participation in the program, and discuss implications of this program for HIV prevention peer education and other forms of multicultural education.

Rationale for CapacityBuilding Intervention

HIV transmission remains a complex health and social problem disproportionately affecting young adults, gay and bisexual men, people of color, and other individuals marginalized by society. In Wisconsin, 63 percent of AIDS cases reported between 1995 and 1998 have been among men who have sex with men and 47 percent of reported cases of HIV were among racial and ethnic minorities (Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services,1999).

The continuing epidemic requires a focus on populations at greatest risk and implementation of diverse prevention strategies to address behavioral and contextual risk factors. Among youth, HIV prevention must reach young gay men and youth of color in high HIV-incidence areas. Prevention strategies must not only reach these young people, but must also do so in a way that recognizes the social realities of their lives. An emerging paradigm for HIV prevention recognizes the need for community members, including youth, to recognize, and then address, the social context which influences individuals' behaviors. According to Keeling, ". . . we began to understand HIV as a social problem rather than a medical issue; its relationship to questions of class, race, and privilege suggested solutions that had more to do with citizenship and community than virology and medicine" (1996).

To prevent HIV transmission among youth it is particularly important to attend to the social realities that put young people at risk. Cultural factors, including racism and homophobia, compound behavioral factors and increase the vulnerability of sexual minority youth and youth of color to HIV transmission.

Peer education is a strategy supported by schools, AIDS service organizations, community-based organizations, and youth-serving agencies to prevent HIV transmission among youth. Although there is a great deal of variation in the structure and implementation of peer education programs, many of these interventions are based on models of social influence and attempt to directly and indirectly influence the behavior of individuals. Peer education programs have successfully increased awareness, disseminated information, and fostered risk reduction behaviors among individuals (Rickert, Jay & Gottlieb,1991; Sloan & Zimmer, 1993).

However, many peer education programs affiliated with schools and minority community-based organizations are based on a paradigm of universal risk with a focus on heterosexual transmission and have neglected the prevention needs of young gay men (Cog, 1999; Keeling, 1998). In addition, HIV prevention peer-led programs affiliated with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (GLBTQ) youth groups have neglected the needs of youth of color. The capacity of peer education programs can be enhanced not only by increasing the diversity of people involved in the programs, but also by increasing participants' skills to serve as change agents and opinion leaders reaching youth at high risk and modifying social norms that influence behavior. …