Alphas Jacob Guyton (L) and Christian Sanders (R) stand in front of the AIDS Alabama mobile testing unit. Courtesy of Alpha Phi Alpha.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youths aged 13-24 are a high risk group for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), accounting for “26% of all new infections” within the U.S. in 2010.

Additionally, “60% of youth with HIV in the United States” are not aware of their infection. This is largely due to the societal stigma placed on HIV (and the syndrome which it can lead to, AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), as it is a virus that can be spread through sexual contact.

The University of Montevallo’s Nu Tau chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha recognized this void in true understanding of the virus and sought to use its resources to combat this issue on the campus level.

To do so, the Alphas brought AIDS Alabama, an advocacy group, to campus on Thursday, Oct. 23. The fraternity will also be sponsoring a presentation from AIDS Alabama on November 19th in LeBaron Recital Hall. The organization parked their mobile HIV testing unit outside the caf, where they provided 20 minute testing for the virus along with informational packets, condoms and even candy for UM students.

All AIDS Alabama’s services provided during the event were confidential and free of charge.

Eric Ward, a representative of the group, discussed how the organization seeks to care for the holistic person rather than simply providing medical care.

According to their website (aidsalabama.org), their services work towards the “goals of increased stability, income, and independence” for HIV-positive persons. These services include housing, education, support groups and other methods for ensuring these persons are able to live long and happy lives despite the virus, which is possible with proper medical care.

The group also works to encourage awareness of HIV prevention and treatment, which Ward mentioned as one of their most important programs. “Lots of people don’t understand the severity of the HIV epidemic in the U.S.,” he said, “Making it a normal conversation, not one based on fear, is really essential to what we do.”

Two Alpha Phi Alpha brothers, Christian Sanders and Jacob Guyon, also talked about the non-judgemental approach to advocacy as a reason why the fraternity chose this advocacy group to bring to campus. “There is a lot of ignorance in terms of venereal diseases, and it’s important to protect yourself,” Sanders commented.

Guyton agreed, and added, “It’s also important because if you don’t know your HIV status, you could hurt someone you care about.”

Response from UM students was largely positive. Carly Rohling, a freshman, said she appreciated that the group “wasn’t forcing abstinence as the only method for prevention.”

Keisha Mcclantoc, a junior English major, was adamant about her feelings on Alabama’s sexual education programs, saying “Sex ed in Alabama is not good at all.” She was encouraged by the visit from AIDS Alabama. “Things like this help people learn and be informed.”