The Counselor Education program’s HIV Education, Awareness, and Research Team (H.E.A.R.T.) is a collaboration of faculty and students who are dedicated to addressing the multiple and complex effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic locally and nationally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Florida number one nationally with new HIV diagnoses and ranks Orlando sixth nationally with new HIV patients and diagnoses.
H.E.A.R.T. is collaborating with UCF during their HIV/AIDS Awareness Week (November 28-December 1), which honors World AIDS Day on December 1. Event highlights included HIV/AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent sharing her HIV story during the World AIDS Day banquet, painting the campus red, discussions about sex, relationships, and HIV, and HIV testing.
Counselor Education Assistant Professor Dr. Richelle Joe has always wanted to conduct research related to HIV/AIDS, mental health implications, and prevention.
When Dr. Joe was a middle school counselor, one of her students came out as gay. She saw him years later and found out he was HIV positive. She wondered what happened in the years in between middle and high school, if there was something that she dropped the ball on, and if school counselors could have supported him later and made his outcome different.
H.E.A.R.T. was born after Dr. Joe was analyzing HIV research data with her graduate research assistant Nevin Heard and a Master’s student during Spring 2016. Counselor Education Associate Professors Drs. S. Kent Butler and Ann Shillingford-Butler also provide their assistance and expertise to the special interest group.
“H.E.A.R.T. is focused on education and raising awareness and conducting research related to HIV,” said Dr. Joe. “We wanted to communicate kindness and caring because there has been so much negativity associated with HIV.”
The group has helped raise HIV awareness by collaborating with Hope & Help, Miracle of Love, and The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida during community events, including the AIDS Walk Orlando Twilight and Celebrate Your Status.
H.E.A.R.T. has also been educating Counselor Education students and professionals in the field about HIV research and raising awareness about the mental health implications during Cultural Encounters and UCF Counseling Conference sessions.
Research efforts include collecting data about black men who have sex with men that haven’t tested HIV positive during a UCF-funded study and collecting data about professional school counselors’ HIV perspectives and beliefs and their opinion about the role of a school counselor as it relates to HIV.
The collective is also in the planning phases of developing a holistic HIV prevention program for youth ages 13-18 with STEM Education Assistant Professor Megan Nickels and Sport and Exercise Science Assistant Professor Dr. Jeanette Garcia.
The HIV group is shining a light in the community.
“H.E.A.R.T. is making a difference by opening people’s eyes, raising awareness, breaking down some of the misconceptions, and biases,” said Dr. Joe. “HIV isn’t a taboo topic. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of misconceptions about HIV. Science has really advanced and we have come a long way. It’s about the humanity of people who are living with HIV. They’re human beings regardless of the condition that they’re living with and deserve the same kind of respect. Being able to communicate that message has been very important and provided H.E.A.R.T. with an opportunity to make an impact on campus and in the community.”