Conversation Starts with Listening

by Will McInerney

All too often, we tend to mistake hearing for listening.

Hearing is a physiological process by which sound waves are processed and passed along from our ears to our brains. Listening is a more complicated psychological process by which we comprehend, create meaning, and apply understanding. (2) Listening engages empathy and connection. This process asks us to be introspective and to challenge ourselves. Listening looks like putting your phone away during a conversation. Listening means you are not formulating a rebuttal or counterpoint while the other is talking, rather you are thinking deeply about what they are saying and taking time to process the information.

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“Listen” by Ky. Flikr Creative Commons.

As a community, we need to deepen our commitment to whole-heartedly listening to survivors and to the professionals who work and advocate on these issues.

October is Relationship Violence Awareness Month (RVAM). During this month (as well as every other month) it is important that we work to hone our listening skills, foster conversations, and catalyze action.

Relationship violence takes many forms (including but not limited to physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, economic, and verbal) and affects a significant percentage of college-aged individuals. (1) RVAM is a time of year when we seek to shine light on this issue and work to create a safer, more accountable, and inclusive campus for all faculty, staff, and students.

One way we can do this is by having more open and honest conversations. Through conversation, we seek to elicit action, foster change, and create impact. But when having conversations it’s also important that we take special note to truly listen, especially to those directly affected.

This year during RVAM, Student Wellness and the Compass Center is focusing on consent, communication, and healthy relationships. Throughout this October, members of the Carolina community are encouraged to show support by participating in any number of the following RVAM events.

Every Monday a live stream consent playlist is available.  Tune in while you are working, out for a walk, or driving for an RVAM crafted playlist between 9am -4pm via Twitch.tv. (search RVAM consent playlist)

On October 21st, students can participate in 3 rounds of virtual trivia covering, the Spectrum of Violence and Pop Culture, Maintaining Healthy [Virtual] Relationships through Love Languages,  Who, What, When, Where, and Why–UNC [Virtual] Campus Resources.

On October 28th, a collection of UNC organizations will be hosting a virtual panel to explore the intersection of Relationship Violence, Race, and Economic Justice. The event will be held @ 2:00pm via zoom.

A panel of professionals from Student Wellness, Equal Opportunity & Compliance Office, Carolina Women’s Center, Compass Center for Women and Children,  will speak and help facilitate group discussions. This is an opportunity for us to engage, to speak, and to challenge our community and ourselves to take tangible steps to reduce violence and listen to survivors.

For more information, check out the  RVAM schedule below.  (all 2020 events will be hosted virtually)

RVAM calendar 2020

Sources

  1. http://www.loveisrespect.org/pdf/Dating_Abuse_Statistics.pdf
  2. http://study.com/academy/lesson/hearing-vs-listening-importance-of-listening-skills-for-speakers.html
  3. http://speakoutunc.blogspot.com/
  4. http://rvam.web.unc.edu/rvam-event-schedule/

Will McInerney has worked with the campus wide initiative to increase men’s involvement in gender equity efforts and violence prevention since its inception. He partners with students, faculty, and staff to promote positive, inclusive, and non-violent masculinities.

Will is also a writer, performer, and consultant specializing in Middle East and North Africa-based conflict zones. His work has been featured on National Public Radio, Al Jazeera, American Public Media, and recently at the International Storytelling Center. Will earned his Bachelor of Arts in Peace, War, and Defense from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Creating a Culture of Consent- SAAM

Creating a Culture of Consent

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign observed in April to raise public awareness about sexual assault.  Our goal at UNC is to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.  This year’s theme centers around consent. 

Show Support

SAAM- APRIL 2020We all play a role in cultivating Carolina culture and creating a space where consent is practiced daily. This month there are a series of fun opportunities to learn more about consent culture and show your support for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You can get involved all month long by participating in a variety of virtual consent events, including trivia, trying new recipes and even watching Netflix.

Connect more with Sexual Assault Awareness

Be entered to win by completing the the Consent Crossword and the SAAM Loyalty Card.

Consent Crossword Complete the crossword and email letstalkaboutit@unc.edu for one stamp. 

SAAM Loyalty Card Participate in a virtual SAAM event and then email letstalkaboutit@unc.edu for one stamp. Each opportunity that you complete can earn you one stamp, as can one completion of the consent crossword. A full loyalty card (5 stamps) gives you a chance to win an Amazon Fire Stick. See all available SAAM loyalty opportunities here.

SAAM Loyal card

Take this April to shower those around you with consent, good vibes, and love (from a physical distance). Stay tuned for more SAAM information on HealthyHeels.org & Safe.unc.edu.

 

University Resources:

  • The Gender Violence Services Coordinators (GVSC):  meeting with folks via phone or secure video chat. To schedule a time to connect with Holly or Kayla you can email them at gvsc@unc.edu (Confidential Resource)
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): you can connect with CAPS via their 24/7 hotline at 919-966-3658 (Confidential Resource)
  • Campus Health: open for students and specifically still providing care for SANE exams – call 919-966-2281 (Confidential Resource)
  • Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office: our Report and Response Coordinators, who are the intake specialists for our Title IX office are still meeting with individuals remotely. To schedule a time to connect with Rebecca, Ew, or Kathryn email: reportandresponse@unc.edu  (Private Resource)
  • Student Wellness: you can connect with SW via email, Studentwellness@unc.edu and get involved with other violence prevention initiatives

Local Resources:

National Resources:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 24/7, confidential and free: 1-800-799-7233 and through chat.
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 24/7, confidential and free: 800.656.HOPE (4673) and through chat.
  • The StrongHearts Native Helpline for domestic/sexual violence is available 7am-10pm CT, confidential, and specifically for Native communities: 1−844-762-8483
  • The Trans LifeLine for peer support for trans folks 9am-3am CT: 1-877-565-8860 This hotline is staffed exclusively by trans operators is the only crisis line with a policy against non-consensual active rescue.
  • National Parent Helpline Monday -Friday 12pm-9am CT emotional support and advocacy for parents: 1-855-427-2736

 

When Home Isn’t Safe: COVID-19 and Interpersonal Violence

This is an unprecedented time for all of us. Uncertainty is rampant and public health officials are all recommending we engage in social distancing. For some folks, social distancing might not look much different than their normal weekend routine: pajamas all day, netflix, and lots of chill time. But for some of the most vulnerable, social distancing can be challenging and even dangerous.

Folks who are experiencing or have experienced gender-based violence (sexual violence, relationship violence, stalking) might be feeling increased isolation and loss of control during this time where answers are limited and the advice to stay home is unanimous. When power and control are the root causes of violence, and isolation is a key tactic of abuse, this time can be triggering for folks who already have experienced these things at the hands of an abuser. Even more, some folks who are being encouraged to stay home might currently be in an abusive relationship with a domestic partner, roommate, family member, or other person at their home.

For this reason, home might not be the safest place for all of our community members.

While this is our reality and is important to name, advocates and staff at UNC-CH are working tirelessly to make sure that our community has the resources and support that it needs during this pandemic.

You are not alone.

From university resources to state and national resources, we are here to support our most vulnerable and to specifically address the unique challenges that survivors of Gender-based violence will be facing during the era of COVID-19.

Let’s start with University resources. While classes have been moved to virtual platforms, campus staff are also hard at work to find creative ways to make our unique services and resources available for our community.

University Resources:

  • The Gender Violence Services Coordinators (GVSC):  meeting with folks via phone or secure video chat. To schedule a time to connect with Holly or Kayla you can email them at gvsc@unc.edu (Confidential Resource)
  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): you can connect with CAPS via their 24/7 hotline at 919-966-3658 (Confidential Resource)
  • Campus Health: open for students and specifically still providing care for SANE exams – call 919-966-2281 (Confidential Resource)
  • Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office: our Report and Response Coordinators, who are the intake specialists for our Title IX office are still meeting with individuals remotely. To schedule a time to connect with Rebecca, Ew, or Kathryn email: reportandresponse@unc.edu  (Private Resource)

Local Resources:

National Resources:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 24/7, confidential and free: 1-800-799-7233 and through chat.
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 24/7, confidential and free: 800.656.HOPE (4673) and through chat.
  • The StrongHearts Native Helpline for domestic/sexual violence is available 7am-10pm CT, confidential, and specifically for Native communities: 1−844-762-8483
  • The Trans LifeLine for peer support for trans folks 9am-3am CT: 1-877-565-8860 This hotline is staffed exclusively by trans operators is the only crisis line with a policy against non-consensual active rescue.
  • National Parent Helpline Monday -Friday 12pm-9am CT emotional support and advocacy for parents: 1-855-427-2736

 

Beyond resources, we want to also provide some guidance for folks who are feeling like their home is not the safest place for them right now. As some states and cities move to require folks to shelter in place, we are aware that this might create additional difficulties and risks for survivors. Here are some things to think through if we receive “shelter in place” guidance from State or local authorities.

If home is not a safe place for you, are there other friends or family you could stay with during this time? Consider reaching out to these people to make a plan:

  • Consider reaching out to a trusted friend, co-worker, or family member who could check in with you about your safety and support needs. If you need help identifying support people in your life, take a look at the pod mapping worksheet from the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective.
  • Are you connected with close friends or family members of the person who is hurting you? Are they aware of what is happening or are they a safe person to reach out to? Consider connecting with them now in case you need someone to help you in an emergency.

We’ve pulled this list from Futures Without Violence. Check out their page to learn more.

The Gender Violence Services Coordinators offer safety planning as part of their support, so this might be an option for folks who are concerned about their safety in their place of residence.

Overall, know that you are not alone in this. Our community is rallying in amazing ways and coming together to support the most vulnerable among us. If you have needs yourself or are looking out for a friend, please take the proactive step of reaching out to any of these resources!

As activist and amazing human Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

 

This blog was written by Viviane Linos, Interpersonal Violence Prevention Programs Coordinator. With a focus on addressing root causes of violence and creating lasting cultural change, Viviane has dedicated the past 6 years to efforts in the professional, scholarly, and advocacy realms of violence prevention.  Receiving her bachelors in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies from Butler University in Indianapolis and then her Masters in Women and Gender Studies from Arizona State University, she has a unique theoretical perspective which she brings to the Student Wellness team at Carolina.

Living at Home as a College Student during Coronavirus

As UNC students shift to living at their permanent addresses due to COVID-19, stress is likely high. You’re bringing home all the challenges you faced on campus – keeping up with your academics, staying social, thinking about summer plans – but with the addition of a global pandemic, navigating most interactions online, and living with your family.

Reach out for support.

Engage online with fellow UNC students, professors, and support services. UNC offers the Writing and Learning Centers, Career Center, Dean of Students, CAPS, Advising and more. All of these entities are offering distance support by phone or online – and bonus – you’ve already paid for their services in tuition and fees. Take advantage of them!

Create a balanced rhythm for your days.

With classes beginning this week, consider making a calendar of yourself – either on your device or on paper. Use colors to visually represent different categories, making it less likely to forget important things you need to do and more likely to maintain accountability, perspective and balance. Include fun things in your calendar – video chats with friends, time outside, movement, creativity. If you like specificity – be specific! Schedule things to the hour or half hour. Include the elements of your day that are important to you.

If you like a more relaxed way of being – focus on the rhythm of your day. For example: I start with a grounding activity like yoga, meditation or a run. Then I eat some food and shower, spend a few hours doing work. After lunch, I go outside for a few hours – hike, bike, read a good book in a hammock. I work on school projects again before dinner and then help cook. After dinner is time for me – making art, video chats, watching shows. Just ensure your rhythm makes time for the things that are important to you.

Be mindful of others.

Your family may need time to adjust to you being home again, and of course you’ll need time to adjust to not being on campus. When you live in tight quarters, it’s critical to pause and reflect on how you feel and how others might be feeling. Stay open-minded and compassionate.

It can be easy to revert back to the old parent-child roles and a time when someone else always cooked and did your laundry. But as an adult, help out around the house. Offer to cook a few times a week, do the dishes, help with house cleaning and yard work. Ask about household finances. Having a conversation about these topics can help clarify for everyone how to navigate living together again.

 

Coronavirus is changing what college life looks like for now. Reach out for support, create a balanced rhythm, and think about others. These are challenging and unique times for everyone. You are not alone!

Friends with (success-inducing) Benefits: How to Help You and Your Friends Succeed in College

Connecting with others in college has often been viewed as a distraction from the ultimate goals of your education. But recent research is showing the clear benefits of a social network of friends to personal well-being and academic success. Bonus: all parties reap the rewards of friendship!

Here are ways you can help each other succeed:

Support each other’s work.

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Even pets can help!

Any of your friends can proofread your papers or remind you of due dates. And you can build friendships from your academic interactions.

  • Talk to your classmates and set up study groups.
  • Create a reading group where you share the reading load and write up summaries for group members.
  • Schedule opportunities to engage with your classmates outside of class.

These types of friendships have been shown to have the most positive academic impact on everyone’s academic success.

Affirm each other.

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A high five while jumping in the snow is one of the best affirmations.

Celebrate efforts together. After your friend has been studying non-stop for an exam, go to a soccer game together to celebrate being done studying. As a reminder: focus on the effort rather than the outcome. An A on a test is great, but your friend will feel more supported when you notice the time she put into studying instead of the grade received.

Support healthy behaviors.

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Generally doing anything that makes you feel like a kid again counts as health-supportive.

Hang out while moving your body – go for bike rides, walk and talk, play a round of golf – whatever sounds fun. Be body positive and food positive – no body- or food-shaming allowed! Encourage sleep and find ways to help your friends sleep well. Earplugs, white noise machines, and light-blocking window shades or eye masks are helpful gifts to friends or roommates.

Avoid stress competition.

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Stress is not a competition.

We know the typical answer to “how are you doing?” is “stressed” or “busy.” But this perpetuates the idea that to be a UNC student means you’re constantly stressed. A better answer? “Life is full right now.” Or telling your friend something fun you recently did and asking them what they’ve been doing to take a break.

Listen.

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Even the walls recognize the importance of listening.

Feeling genuinely heard and accepted is one of our most important needs.  Providing empathy and acceptance is one of the most soothing things one can do for another.

As the listener:

  • Try to give your full attention.
  • Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact.
  • Use body language to show you’re paying attention. Nodding your head and mirroring your friend’s feelings with your facial expressions can make people feel heard.
  • Listen non-judgmentally – meaning resist the impulse to judge who is right or wrong, good or bad, should or should not have done something.
  • Try not to make assumptions.
  • Reflect back what you hear and ask the person with, “did I get it?”
  • Ask, “What would help?”
  • Don’t be too quick to “fix” the problem or give advice.  Make sure you show you understand what the other person’s needs and feelings are first.

Be like family.

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Hugs for the win!

What did your family do to support you that you loved? Some ideas:

  • Cook each other dinner.
  • Ask if your friend needs anything when you head to the store.
  • Invite your friend to join you on outings.
  • Celebrate milestones together.
  • Be authentic with each other.

Ultimately, you have an opportunity at UNC to create the community you need to be successful here. Sometimes that takes a bit of vulnerability to put yourself out there or to be honest with someone about your current challenges, but we guarantee it’s worth the effort.

Having trouble getting connected? If you’re in the residence hall, check in with your RA or Community Director staff. If you’re not living on campus, look into student organizations that fit your interests.

This blog was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator. 

Other than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex?

sexual communicationOther than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex? Turns out the answer is YES for Carolina students!  91% of UNC-Chapel Hill first years say they’d communicate with a partner about what they want in a sexual situation.  Now, we know that all first- years are not the same; different groups of students have different attitudes and beliefs. However, interestingly enough this statistic doesn’t change a whole lot across different gender identities, races, and sexual orientations (ranges from 88%-93%).

 

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Alicia Keys Photo by Intel Free Press, Flickr Creative Commons

Not convinced?  Famous musical artists across the decades would agree with 91% of UNC first-years, and have rather good advice and examples of how to communicate about sex. Salt-n-pepa kicks us off with the obvious, “let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me”. Coldplay chimes in about getting it on with, “Turn your magic on, to me she’d say ,…  ‘Oh you make me feel like I’m alive again’”  John Legend and Marvin Gaye (respectively) ask for affirmative verbal consent singing, “I just need permission, so give me the green light” and “I’m asking you baby to get it on with me, I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push, won’t push you baby”.  Lauryn Hill talks about what she likes singing, “The sweetest thing I’ve ever known is your kiss upon my collar bone.” And then there’s Alicia Keys showing us how to set some boundaries, “There’s an attraction we can’t just ignore, but before we go too far across the line I gotta really make sure that I’m really sure.”

 

 

 

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Coldplay Photo by pinero.beatriz, Flickr Creative Commons
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John Legend Photo by Fantasy Springs, Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of talking about sex… what does “sex” refer to anyways?  Study after study after study has shown that everyone defines sex very differently.  So, for the remainder of this blog, we’re going to focus on “sexual behavior/ activity”, which can include wide a range of behaviors done with ourselves or others including hugging, kissing, vaginal sex, holding hands, oral sex, abstinence, (mutual ) masturbation, different forms of physical intimacy, anal sex, the list goes on.  Some people have oral/ anal/ vaginal sex, other people are sexual in other ways, and some other people choose to abstain from some/ all of these things! Side note: it turns out lots of UNC students are abstaining in lots of different ways as well; click here to learn more! Moral of the story is, no matter what kinds of sexual behaviors you are or aren’t engaging in with other people, learning to talk about wants/needs and boundaries is important, and practice can help. 

Back to the point. If someone is interested in being sexually active, or is sexually active, why does everyone think talking about it with the people involved is such a good idea?  The long and short: talking means everyone is on the same page and everyone will have a better experience if there is clear communication. Loveisrespect.org would say that you’re the only person who knows what’s on your mind, so your partner won’t know unless you say it!  Along the same lines, you can’t know what your partner is thinking or wanting until you ask them and talk about it. We don’t always know how to talk about sexual activity, especially since we don’t always see representations of this in the media, and because we don’t often learn about how to communicate on this topic in school or from our families. However, it’s important for everybody to talk about what they like, don’t like, and what their boundaries are.  It’s also super important to listen to your partner, and respect the things they say and the boundaries they set.  Even if they have previously consented to intimacy, but do not desire to this time. This will show the person that what they say matters to you, and they’re more likely to trust you and listen to you as a result.

Some people think talking about being sexual is for folks in serious, long-term, committed relationships, however, this is just as, if not more, important for people who choose to have casual/ short-term sexual interactions! Why’s that?  Casual/ short-term sexual interactions often occur between people who don’t know each other well, and/or are interacting sexually for the first time.  Therefore, talking about expectations, limits and boundaries for sex (in ways that are comfortable, clear, and sexy) is even more important to make sure everybody is on the same page and having an equally positive experience. There are also people who choose to abstain from some or all sexual behaviors.  Do they need to talk about being sexual?  Absolutely!  Making sure there are clear lines of communication about what everyone wants in these situations is more important than ever so that everyone’s boundaries are understood and respected.

Sound hard/ challenging/ uncomfortable?  It’s easier (and sexier) than it sounds!  And, if someone knows what you like (and you know what they like), and everyone knows what’s on and off the table, it’ll be a lot more safe and satisfying, too. Here are some phrases our sexual wellness counselors recommend to get you started!

  • Do you want to…?
  • How would you feel about…?
  • How far do you see things going?
  • What do you want to do?
  • Would you like it if I…?
  • I want to…
  • I don’t want to…
  • That sounds amazing
  • Nope, not for me
  • I’m down to do… but I’m not into …

Still perplexed? Click here to take a free online course about creating and sustaining healthy relationships, INCLUDING skills around how to communicate and talk about sex in healthy ways. While the information is applicable to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, these modules are centered on the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Trans*, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two Spirit, and Same Gender Loving communities. Whether you are looking to strengthen your own relationship skills or support others in their relationships—this course is for you!

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Have additional specific questions?  Make a free private SHARE appointment to talk about talking about sex.SHARE

We encourage you to think about one way you or a friend could communicate about healthy relationships and sex in an open and positive way.  If you or your friend feels uncomfortable talking about this, remember that 91% of your peers and several pop stars have your back and support talking it out! Continue reading

What Is One Act?

What are Intervention and Prevention?

These two words are thrown around pretty frequently when it comes to violence prevention work, and it is important to understand them before we discuss One Act. Imagine that you are sitting on a riverbank and suddenly a drowning person comes floating down the river, struggling to keep their head above water. You save them, but before you can catch your breath, another person comes drowning down the river, then another and another! Instead of saving each individual person, you run upstream to see why so many people are coming down the river. In this analogy, saving the people drowning can be viewed as intervention work while running upstream to solve the problem can be viewed as prevention work (CDC). Both intervention and prevention are equally important in the field of ending violence.

How One Act Changed My View of Bystander Intervention

One Act is a bystander intervention training that teaches people how to identify warning signs of violence and find safe ways to intervene. Before I attended, I had a very specific idea of what that meant. To me, it meant being at a large, loud party and noticing one person making advances that may be unwanted onto another person, things potentially getting physical, and then someone stepping in to try to prevent a violent situation from unfolding. While this example of violence prevention certainly occurs, it is not the only kind of scenario that One Act addresses.

One Act addresses risky situations including the party scenario I previously mentioned, as well as potentially less obvious situations including noticing a friend exhibiting signs of experiencing mental, physical, emotional, or financial abuse from a partner. One Act incorporates both aspects of prevention and early intervention into its training while also addressing healthy relationships, campus and community resources, and consent.

One Act treats everyone as an active bystander with the potential to prevent or stop violence. I like how One Act offers students’ different ways to intervene based on their identity, personality, and level of comfort intervening in a potentially dangerous situation. One Act really emphasizes ‘meeting people where they are’ and recognizes that not everyone feels safe intervening in the same way, which is why they offer options.

The One Act Model

One Act and One Act for Greeks are on-campus trainings that offer participants the skills to intervene in the situations mentioned previously. The trainings teach participants to be active bystanders all of the time, for strangers at parties as well as for friends and family. The training outlines a 4-step process of dealing with a risky or unsettling situation where you suspect violence or a potential for violence:

  1. Observe
  2. Assess
  3. ACT
  4. Follow Up

One Act acknowledges that every bystander and every situation is different and therefore provides multiple options on how to act. The ACT acronym offers the options:

A – Ask for Help

C – Create a Distraction

T – Talk Directly

One Act on Campus:

Preventing violence sounds like a big, daunting task, but One Act breaks it down into small, doable actions that can make a huge difference. It can be as simple as asking a friend how their new relationship is going, if they feel safe with their partner, or just making yourself available to talk if they ever want to. Outside of trainings, One Act also holds several events on campus to spread awareness for violence prevention. One such event is Dos and Donuts, which is held in both the Fall and Spring semesters. Dos and Donuts offers donuts to students who participate in activities promoting healthy relationships, checking in with friends and family, and self-care. This event helps students who have not been One Act trained learn to be an active bystander in their own lives.

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Here is our Healthy Relationship Donut! We asked students ‘what makes a relationship sweet’ and they added their sprinkle to the donut. Check out more pictures from the event here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/OneAct/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1367790649927800

My Final Thoughts:

One Act gives students the knowledge, skills, and confidence to recognize early warning signs of violence, and teaches them how to take steps to prevent that violence from unfolding. Students who have attended One Act have said that they are more willing to engage in conversations regarding sexual assault and consent since being trained.

I have learned so much since being One Act trained and since working with the program this semester and I strongly believe that this training has and will continue to contribute to a safer UNC-CH environment. I believe that everyone in the Carolina community should get One Act trained in order to foster an environment of looking out for and helping one another.

You can find the dates of our Spring trainings and sign up for information or a training here: https://studentwellness.unc.edu/oneact

This blog post was written by Rachel Maguire, One Act’s Fall 2016 Social Media Intern. Rachel is a third year Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major who became involved with One Act through the WMST 340: Violence in Leadership Prevention class.

How is HIV different than AIDS? An HIV primer

This year marks 35 years since AIDS was first recognized by the CDC. News of the highly-fatal AIDS epidemic was initially met with profound concern, panic and confusion. Still today, there are plenty of misconceptions about what HIV and AIDS are, and who is affected.  In honor of World AIDS Day, we’ll provide an abbreviated history of the discovery of HIV and AIDS, discuss how they’re different, and talk about how you can get tested for FREE!

AIDS and HIV: A super-duper brief history

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received several reports of a rare cancer, typical only among those with severely compromised immune systems and the elderly, among young gay men. Suspecting that there may be other factors at-play, the CDC began an investigation. At this stage of the epidemic, there was no identifiable cause and no single name for the phenomenon. Various organizations referred to it with different names, among them “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).  As the epidemic spread, it became clear that several groups were affected, including injection drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.  The CDC proposed using a unifying name for the condition, as there was mounting evidence that it was not limited to the gay community. In 1982, with over 400 cases reported globally, the CDC proposed the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or (AIDS). Around the same time, cases of mother-to-child transmissions of AIDS were reported, and a child who had received blood transfusions also appeared to have developed AIDS. Cases of AIDS among women who have sex with men were recorded. All of these cases provided evidence that an infectious agent was likely responsible for AIDS, and suggested several possible routes of transmission: through blood, breast milk, and sexual activity. In 1986, at least five years after AIDS cases were initially reported, the name for the virus that causes AIDS was born: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, or HIV.

AIDS vs. HIV?

The history of AIDS and HIV helps clarify how and why they’re different. Contrary to the widespread belief, HIV is not a disease. It is a virus – but a pretty serious one. Our bodies are able to fight off other viruses like the common cold, but for some reason, we just can’t rid our bodies of HIV. Our immune system is comprised of various types of cells, each having special roles to fight off infections. HIV attacks one such cell, the CD4 cell. The higher your CD4 cell count, the stronger your immune system is and the better you are at fighting infections. HIV attacks our CD4 cells by entering them and becoming part of their life cycle. Think of…mind control. When HIV takes over a CD4 cell, it no longer thinks it is a CD4 cell. When the CD4 cell (with its brain taken over by the virus) tells itself to ‘replicate,’ HIV replicates. This leads to an increase in HIV, a decrease in CD4, and a compromised immune system. If the CD4 cell count drops significantly, an individual has AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

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Image from http://aids.gov

AIDS refers to a syndrome, meaning the presence of clinical features or phenomena (example:  weakened immune system). HIV is a necessary but not sufficient cause of AIDS. In other words, HIV infection always precedes AIDS, but HIV doesn’t always develop into AIDS. HIV can be detected with a variety of tests that identify either HIV itself or circulating HIV antibodies. AIDS diagnosis is more complicated, and requires the presence of certain signs and symptoms, such as decreased white blood cell count and certain  AIDS-defining illnesses.

Who gets HIV?
Given that HIV can be transmitted through sex, contaminated sharp instruments or breastfeeding, almost all individuals are at risk. HIV transcends geographic, socioeconomic, political, racial, and gender boundaries. Some individuals have a higher risk than others depending on how often they are exposed to the following four fluids that transmit HIV: blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.

A person’s sexual network (a group of people one individual is connected to through sexual contact), which may be influenced by race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, may also influence his/her/zir risk for contracting HIV. Think of it in terms of probability. Let’s say Person A is an African American man who has sex with other men, and Person B is a White man who does not have sex with other men. Person A has a smaller number of potential sexual partners than Person B. In other words, Person A has a smaller sexual network. In terms of numbers, this means that if someone in Person A’s network becomes infected with HIV, he has a higher chance of also becoming infected even if he engages in the exact same level of “risky sexual behavior” as Person B.

HIV Prevention and Treatment
The key to prevention is education. With a lack of education about the truth, millions of individuals become infected because they believe HIV can’t impact them. In reality, specific communities have higher infection rates due to historical inequitable access to care and modern institutions that keep these communities at a lower socioeconomic status which maintains unequal access to care. Treatments for HIV exist, but are expensive.

Other than breaking down myths (which the Center for Aids Research is excellent at doing!), everyone needs to understand risks of sexual transmission BEFORE they put themselves in high-risk situations. The four fluids of HIV transmission (do you remember what they are? Blood, vaginal secretions, semen, and breast milk) along with education on proper condom use help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases -and (bonus!) unintended pregnancy. Everyone who has sex should get tested once a year or before embarking on a new sexual encounter, whichever comes first. Testing should be a regular part of healthy relationships.

HIV Testing

In honor of World AIDS Day, Student Wellness is hosting a FREE, walk-in HIV testing event in the Carolina Union from 10AM-4:45PM on December 1st (TODAY!). Please see our event page for more information. Additionally, at UNC Campus Health Services, we offer a rapid oral test (results available in about 20 minutes), and a blood test available every weekday. More information about HIV testing at UNC is available on the Campus Health webpage; for more information about making an HIV appointment with Student Wellness call 919.962.9355.

 

This post was compiled and updated based on two previous Healthy Heels blog posts, one written by Diana Sanchez, a PhD student in Public Health Epidemiology in 2012 and the other written by Jani Radhakrishnan, a MPH and City and Regional Planning Master’s Student. Both writers served as graduate student staff with wellness at UNC.