New campus campaign promotes HIV/AIDS testing

Courtesy of the P2 Initiative
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BY SUZANNE JACOBS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 8, 2010

Correction appended: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Brandon Littlejohn's fraternity. It is Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. - Epsilon Chapter. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly stated the availability of rapid HIV testing. It is not yet available on campus.

Courtesy of the P2 Initiative

Though the concept of knowing one’s status may be most commonly associated with Facebook, a new campaign launched by a University student is aimed at encouraging other students to pay attention to a different kind of status.

LSA senior Brandon Littlejohn launched the P2 Initiative last week in an effort to promote HIV testing among students at the University. The campaign, which is a collaboration between University Health Services and the Multi Ethnic Student Association, uses images of confident University students to encourage students to “know their status” when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

Littlejohn said the campaign is an extension of The Promiscuity Project — an event sponsored by his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. - Epsilon Chapter, in October 2009 to educate students about HIV through live music and short films. University alum Rod Gailes OBC worked with Littlejohn on the project and the two decided to continue their collaboration after seeing the success of the event. Of those that attended the event, 10 percent got tested for HIV/AIDS on the spot, according to Littlejohn.

OBC, a graduate of New York University’s film program, said he was eager to sign on to extend the project because it fits in with most of his other art, which aims to promote social change.

“A big thing for me,” OBC said, “is being an artist for social change, so my work … needs to have that kind of thrust.”

Littlejohn said one of the reasons he believes the campaign is so important is that students don’t appreciate the value in getting tested.

“People our age live (with) this kind of carefree, I’m invincible attitude,” he said, “so they don’t really take the time to think about the risks they’re taking.”

He added that getting tested isn’t going to change the results of the test.

“Going to get the test isn’t going to make (the results) positive or negative,” he said.

OBC agreed, saying that students won’t be able to deal with their status without knowing what it is.

“Knowing your status isn’t going to change your status,” he said. "It’s going to make you powerful in dealing with it.”

Through the P2 Initiative, Littlejohn and OBC said they want to help students realize that getting tested for HIV is important not only for health reasons, but also for the empowerment that comes with “knowing your status.”

Every week through April 13, the P2 Initiative will release a new image portraying confident University students engaged in everyday activities like a late-night study date. The images will feature information about free and anonymous HIV testing available every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. in the MESA office in the Michigan Union.

Littlejohn and OBC said they wanted each of the 10 campaign images to tell a story, and they recruited a diverse group of University students as models so all students would find the stories relatable.

OBC shot the photographs during a weeklong stay in Michigan in November. He said he designed the images with the aim that the models would exude confidence.

OBC added that he wants the images to function like advertisements for HIV/AIDS testing and to make students feel like they “want to buy what (the images are) selling.”

In addition to encouraging students to get tested, the P2 Initiative is working on bringing a different type of testing — called rapid HIV testing — to campus than what is normally available at UHS. While the results could normally take up to two weeks, students who get rapid testing would only have to wait 20 minutes to be informed of the results of the test.

Littlejohn said the system in place at UHS, which involved going to get tested and then returning to get results, can often be discouraging for students.

“They get the nerve to go the first time,” he said. “But then they have to get the nerve again to call back or go back.”

Littlejohn said Detroit is the closest place where rapid testing is currently available. He added that getting funding to bring it to the University is difficult because Ann Arbor is not a “high risk” area. But until the P2 Initiative gets approval to have rapid testing on campus, standard testing is now available, he said.

The first testing session took place on Feb. 2 — the same day as the release of the first image of the campaign. Four people got tested in that first hour, according to Littlejohn.