Sensitive issues in the classroom: teaching about HIV in the American Deep South


This article describes my experience of teaching a course on the sociology of HIV/Aids to college undergraduate students in the American Deep South. Courses on HIV are generally held to be beneficial to students, but questions remain about how best to provide instruction on a sensitive topic, especially when HIV-related stigma intersects with social conservatism, racial disparities and high infection rates in the local context. Course objectives focused on: 1) raising student awareness about HIV, 2) helping students to develop a sociological imagination in relation to HIV, and 3) reducing HIV-related stigma. These goals were achieved through social theory and analysis in the classroom, followed by service learning and research in the community. The class taught me that a course on HIV/Aids could attract full enrolment in a socially conservative environment, that theory-based, direct learning techniques are valuable for raising awareness and challenging stereotypes, and that students often enjoy becoming ‘knowledge leaders’ about HIV in the community. I also learned that a student code of conduct and strategies to avoid disciplinary problems in the classroom are as important as course content when teaching about HIV.

Vol 2, Issue 3

2010-05-01 00:00:00

doi: 10.11120/elss.2010.02030002

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