CSUN sociology alumnus helps with HIV prevention

Jason Gallaher

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Being surrounded by drugs, HIV, and prostitutes doesn’t sound like your typical office environment. But for Jesse Fletcher, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from CSUN in 2004 and 2006, this is just a regular day at work.

“We have to be in the trenches of what’s going on in this really dark world of HIV and drug use and homelessness,” Fletcher said. “We’re at the corner of Sunset and La Brea in Hollywood which is like the mecca of gay and transgender prostitution and sex work and the drug trade.”

Fletcher works for the Friends Research Institute as a statistician in the field of HIV prevention. The institute provides a variety of services to people at risk of HIV infection, including HIV and STD testing, health education discussions, and drug abuse prevention in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

While working at the Friends Research Institute, Fletcher has co-authored a variety of publications that detail topics such as predictors of HIV risk behavior and the feasibility of HIV prevention among specific groups.

“We work primarily with populations most affected by HIV,” Fletcher said. “Mainly people who identify as gay or bisexual, as well as transgender women.”

As a student, Fletcher never really saw himself in the dark environment that serves as his work setting today. A big impetus in choosing his current career was learning he was going to owe taxes while pursuing his doctorate at UC Riverside.

“You don’t get paid a whole lot in graduate school, and I realized with my wife pregnant, I was going to need more money than part-time teaching was going to allow,” Fletcher said.

After applying for more than 40 jobs, he was hired on to work with the Friends Research Institute, and has been there for nearly three years.

“I have learned to love the work I do and I feel as though I’m giving back to the community,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said his studies at CSUN have helped him in his career today.

“My personal experience was that my master’s education that I got at CSUN was actually a deeper and more comprehensive examination of the discipline than I discovered at the PhD level,” Fletcher said. “I actually went deeper and got a more holistic understanding of what they’d ask me to study from CSUN and their master’s program.”

While pursuing his master’s at CSUN, Fletcher studied a concept called cognitive consistency with sociology professors Jerald Schutte and David Boyns.

“My master’s thesis was an examination of uniform elements in music production of popular music,” Fletcher said. “So basically, is there a standard for music production and to the extent that any song matches that standard does it affect its popularity over time.”

Choosing sociology as his field of study had a similar feeling of happenstance that choosing his place of employment did.

“The very first class I took in college was in community college, and at 8 a.m. on day one the class I took was sociology introduction,” Fletcher said. “By the end of that first day I had a really good idea that sociology was what I wanted to do.”

That class was taught at the College of the Canyons by Vickie Jensen, who also teaches sociology at CSUN, and whom Fletcher credits as being a significant reason he chose to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CSUN.

“He stood out immediately,” Jensen said. “He made much higher quality contributions than one generally expects of a freshman.”

Boyns agreed that Fletcher’s talent made him stand out in sociology.

“Jesse’s list of accomplishments is no fluke,” Boyns said. “His intelligence, work ethic, and drive for knowledge are at the very highest level. He is now a respected researcher in the field of medical sociology.”

Fletcher said the pull of sociology is that it makes everyday life seem like a science experiment.

“It makes me feel like I could live in a laboratory, that I could walk into a sporting event or concert and see things that other people didn’t,” Fletcher said. “I imagined that I would have this ‘Matrix’ view of what I was seeing and I would see through the code and pick out what was actually happening.”

While he said the reality of sociology is not nearly as dramatic as that thought, he still wants to continue in the field as his career progresses.

“I would like to end up in academia,” he said. “I feel well suited for it, and I like the idea that you get to pursue your own research.”

That research would encompass his doctorate work in identity processes with his current work with transgender women.

“That transition of identity change is intensely interesting to me,” Fletcher said.