A group of students who called themselves Be Educated handed out fliers, free candy, condoms and water bottles to students who passed by the Student Services Lawn on Nov. 11 to educate about and help prevent sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.
The group and the activity are both results of an assignment in Professor Gigi Hessamian’s Communication Studies 323 class (Small Group Communication) in which students were told to pick a topic of social concern and do something positive about it.
“There’s probably about five or six different groups that did projects,” said B.E. member Joseph Flom, senior communication studies major. “Some people mentor high school kids, or they donate time at an old folks home. The criteria of the course is unspecific.”
Flom said the students’ goal for the project was not simply to get a passing grade.
“We received the highest score possible, but really what we’re trying to do is make a difference within our community and for our peers,” he said.
Despite the fact that the event came about as part of a school assignment, the five members of B.E. were inspired by the responses they received from students and various organizations to a point that they are considering continuing their project on their own next semester, possibly off campus.
“Next semester, we may potentially do this again, on our own,” said Ngom Priso, junior economics and criminal law major, citing the fact that he received an enormously encouraging and generous response from organizations such as the Magic Johnson Foundation and the AmASSI Center.
Priso was able to secure between 500 and 600 donated condoms and water bottles to give to students from the Magic Johnson Foundation. CSUN’s Klotz Student Health Center also helped supply condoms.
“We got together on the topic that we wanted, but we have a passion for this,” Priso said. “Some of us know people that have been affected with AIDS. I (had) two friends that have been affected by it and lost their lives to it. It’s killed a lot of people across the world.”
Some students who participated in the project believed that most students’ reactions were positive.
“I’m actually surprised with the reception,” said Bethany Morgan, junior communication studies major and B.E. member. “It’s been very positive. We haven’t had any negative feedback so far.”
Flom said the group started the morning with between 500 and 600 flyers and condoms, and that they handed out nearly all of them, noting that the group came into contact with hundreds of students throughout the day.
“I just think this is a subject we should be more free about,” said Nicole Perricone, junior communications studies major. “It’s definitely a taboo, and we wanted to break the silence about STDs for a couple of hours.”
Perricone said that although she and her fellow group members realize that AIDS is a serious problem on a global scale, she feels it is important to start the fight at home.
All of the group members noted that many students they encountered were shocked to see the statistic printed on the back of one of the their flyers that one in every four Americans has an STD.
“I think it’s very important that students here are aware of AIDS and HIV,” said Ingrid Johnson, junior finance major. “The only cure right now is prevention.”
Students generally reacted with shyness and giggled or shied away when B.E. members addressed them. B.E. members said certain groups of students were much more or less willing to approach them, depending mainly on culture and gender. Flom said white and African American males were most likely to talk with the group.
“Girls are more discreet, more embarrassed,” Flom said, adding that Asian students also acknowledged them less than other groups.
Morgan noticed the same pattern.
“Men are more receptive, and girls are more shy,” she said. “We’ve had some girls that won’t even touch the condoms.”
Flom said the way in which people respond to issues pertaining to sex is based on cultural perceptions of sex.
“There are certain cultural values, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Flom said. “We try to draw them in with the water and the candy.”
The table staffed by B.E. members was decorated with brightly colored signs that said such things as “Team B.E. presents AIDS Awareness,” “Sex and Candy,” and “AIDS is still an epidemic.”
Most of the students who approached the table only referred to it shyly as “cool,” but Michael Allen, junior Pan-African Studies major, not only thought the idea was excellent, but thought groups like B.E. should be in high schools.
“I think (AIDS awareness) should be promoted in high schools,” Allen said. “We have so many out-of-control diseases. We need to be preaching to the youngsters. Hopefully it’s not too late to do it in college, but the younger generation is (becoming sexually active) and they’re not being made aware.”
Bethania Palma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.