HAICU takes on stigma

07 May 2012

HAICU Shine LightUCT will host a candlelight memorial on 10 May, when the spotlight will again be on stigma; in fact, the theme will be explored for much of the month.

As it has for the past few years, UCT's 2012 Candlelight Memorial, this year to be hosted in front of Jameson Hall on 10 May, will focus on the theme of stigma.

It's for good reason that stigma has become a recurring target on campus. As a 2010 survey by the Higher Education HIV/AIDS [HEAIDS] initiative pointed out, most people at UCT would feel uncomfortable going public with their status if they were to contract the HI virus.

"According to the HEAIDS survey, a perception of stigma continues to prevail at UCT," wrote the university's HIV/AIDS Institutional Co-ordination Unit (HAICU) in its 2011 report to Council. "Only 50% of students, 58% of academic and service staff, and 41% of administrative staff feel that they would be supported by their friends at the institution if they were to disclose an HIV-positive status."

"Stigma obviously remains an issue of concern for UCT where, despite what one would consider a very progressive attitude towards HIV awareness, staff and students remain guarded," says Professor Crain Soudien, deputy vice-chancellor responsible for student affairs. "So it remains something we are committed to addressing on all fronts."

One way is the annual Candlelight Memorial. The theme for this year's event is Shine Light - Stop Stigma. [See poster, top left.]

But while the memorial may take centre stage, it's not the only string HAICU has to its bow.

For one thing, the unit's trained corps of AIDS Community Educators (ACEs) - students who act as peer educators and mentors - will host a series of workshops in residences to discuss stigma and other related issueswith students. They also have one-on-one 'champion chats' with friends and family members of students, a staple of the ACE interventions.

A number of workshops will also be run for day students and societies.

This multi-level approach is necessary to tackle stigma from a variety of angles, says Lucina Reddy, project officer at HAICU.

"There are different layers and levels of stigma that a student must negotiate. So if a student is HIV-positive, they are reluctant to disclose their status," explains Reddy.

That has both personal and social consequences. For UCT, it's worrying that students then choose not to access the university's available resources.

"That's why our work is so important, to tell students that this UCT, this community, believes in inclusiveness, that access to resources is important, and so we encourage them to make use of these," adds Reddy.

This year, first-year students from the School of Fine Art will also set up an exhibition to explore the issue of stigma from an artistic perspective.

(See a contribution from a UCT staff member who is HIV-positive.)

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