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Reaching LGBTQ College & University Students of Color

Young people under 26 years of age, born after June 5, 1981, have never known a world without HIV. In general, sexual health education programs offered in schools reach students between 13 and18 years old and vary in their content and comprehensiveness.

Many new college and university students arrive on campus with little to no knowledge of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and ways to prevent and treat them.

Overall, older youth, regardless of whether they’re enrolled in college or university, are disproportionately impacted by HIV with:

  • The rate of HIV diagnosis among youth (13-24 years old) being highest (81%) in the 20-24 age group
  • Almost half of youth (44%) ages 18-24 living with HIV in the U.S. not knowing they are infected
  • The most affected subpopulations are Black men who have sex with men (MSM), followed by White and Hispanic/Latino MSM

Entering college/university represents a major time of transition for young people and the need for efforts to increase HIV/AIDS awareness is especially important on college and university campuses. 

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students still developing their sexual identity or coming out for the first time, the campus environment can be challenging. Being LGBTQ and a person of color can add another layer of isolation depending on the type of campus setting.

  • LGBTQ students of color at predominantly White institutions may find that the resources available may not address the experience and needs of students of color.
  • LGBTQ students of color attending historically Black college and universities (HBCUs), may still feel unsupported by the lack of LGBTQ resources on campus.

Youth HIV Facts

Only 21% of HBCUs in the U.S. are estimated to have LGBT organizations on campus.
Campus Pride

Ways to Support LGBTQ College and University Students of Color

College and university staff, faculty, and administrators should engage and support this age group to be proactive about their sexual health. While there are not a lot of evidence based practices for this age group in HIV prevention, a number of universities around the country have developed their own practices for to supporting LGBTQ students. Consider these approaches:

  • The University of Southern California’s LGBT Resource Center held focus groups with students of color and begun partnering with campus health services to better address student concerns about sexual activity and identity.
  • Boston University’s Sex in the Dark program convenes a panel of “sexperts” to answer students’ questions about sexual health and relationships in a room with the lights off as a way of protecting anonymity and comfort. Questions have been asked about topics ranging from sexual pleasure and STIs to safer sex, contraception, and sexual identity.
  • The Counseling Center at the University of California (Irvine) runs a LGBTQ mentoring program that supports students through informal conversations and provides resources, including sexual health information.
  • The University of the District of Columbia’s Campaign 9:30 is a student-led peer education program that mobilizes students to ask questions and get referrals to HIV testing.

The rates of HIV testing for college-aged youth are low.

  • According to survey data from 2011 to 2013, among young adults aged 18 to 24, an average of 27% of males and 40% of females have been tested for HIV.
  • An American College Health Association study found that out of all college students eligible to utilize campus health services, only 49% (private institutions) and 43% (public institutions) did so.

In understanding the importance of offering HIV prevention and treatment services in venues rather than on-campus health services, college and university administrators could:

Youth HIV Facts

Among adults aged 18 to 24, an average of 27% of males and 40% of females have been tested for HIV.
Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

If LGBTQ students of color feel more acknowledged on campus, they may feel more comfortable to seek services like HIV testing. To create more affirming and inclusive campus environments, college and university administrators could:

  1. Create a Safe Space on campus (scroll to the “Creating A Safe Space” header)
  2. Conduct yearly Safe Space trainings for both staff and students
  3. Provide opportunities for students to ask campus health services for what they need, including relevant HIV and STI materials
  4. Establish peer support groups for LGBTQ students of color
  5. Assess the barriers to including LGBTQ students of color on campus
  6. Refer to the Campus Pride Index to see how college and universities across the country have been rated on LGBTQ-friendliness.
Page last updated: February 2018