How Greek-Lettered Organizations are Raising HIV/AIDS Awareness
December 6, 2022
In commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 1, Interfaith America hosted a conversation, “Crisis, Community, and Campus Life: Greek Life’s Response to HIV and AIDS,” with educators and activists exploring the critical role of Greek–affiliated organizations in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Members of fraternities and sororities, particularly at historically Black universities and colleges, are making influential social impact on and off campus. Many organizations have committed to leveraging their networks, influence, and cultural power to raise awareness about the ongoing HIV and AIDS epidemic, in addition to many other important issues facing college students and communities at large.
The Rev. Fred Davie moderated the conversation with panelists:
- Dr. Bambi Gaddist, co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, Indiana University School of Public Health
- Dr. Vivian Carter, associate professor and Psychology and Sociology department chair of Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama
- Kolbey Gardner, author, serial entrepreneur, activist, and President of United Strategies Group
- Dr. Illya Davis, professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College in Atlanta
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Highlights from the conversation:
Dr. Illya Davis: One of the greatest advantages of my [Greek-letter] organization and others is you have a ready-made workforce that can immediately engage many of the social ills that we need to address. You don’t have to create a group to make certain progressive movements, they’re already made. Unique to Black Greek-letter organizations, they were fundamentally grounded in social economical movement. You don’t have to convince them of the value of something like HIV/AIDS work; it’s just a matter of getting it done.
Dr. Bambi Gaddist: In 1976, I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, Gamma Kappa chapter, at Tuskegee. It was instilled in us that we should be people of service, that we should be a fearless voice, that we should stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves. And we should demonstrate that daily, in some way, shape, or form. When I think about the sororities and fraternities, particularly on HBCUs, I think of intergenerational armies of brilliant minds, because in fact, this is an infection that impacts the young and the old. And we have to bridge intergenerational differences and how we see how this infection is impacting us.
Those of us who are older, we have to call upon young adults and young professionals and brilliant minds to help guide us to some of the things that we missed.
And then finally, you know, as a community advocate, who’s taken many blows for the work in HIV, along with many of my colleagues who struggle with people trying to re-address attitudes and beliefs. The fact is, is that we need to change policies. We need to change guidelines, things that foster stigma, prejudices, and hold people living with HIV in bondage, so that they cannot live a quality of life. When I think of fraternities and sororities, I remain anxious to continue the work that I’m working in and partnering with others to get it done, because they, as it’s been said, are a large answer to our plight right now.
Dr. Vivian Carter: We have to be upfront, take the sting out of the [HIV/AIDS] stigma. This is still a human being, this is still a disease, like any other disease. I always call it the gift of COVID, which gave us a lot of unity, in terms of addressing this issue and empowerment … it did empower HBCUs. Dr. Gaddist talked about getting those persons to participate in those clinical trials [for the COVID-19 vaccine]. And I was one of those people sitting on those review committees, and saying, “You don’t have enough minority participants to release this when we see this amount,” but then they had to come back, “Well, where can we find them?” And we told them, “You go there, you go to the HBCUs.” And we have them because we are them. That was empowering because again, it brought recognition to who we are, what we can do.
You know, I wish to God, that someone with the energy that I’m seeing today was there when my loved one was going through and succumbed, but we’re getting there. But we have a big hill to climb in terms of addressing the stigma and addressing the structural issues within the institutions themselves that provide health care.
Rev. Fred Davie: What can fraternities do to address these issues?
Kolbey Gardner: I think about the Black fraternities and the conversation about elitism, and I go back to my time in undergrad. To join a fraternity, you have to, in most places. have a certain GPA. But then even beyond that, you’ve got to be first admitted to college. And as I look at the rates for Black men, not only graduating high school, and then making it to college, that’s already creating a barrier of access.
We’re seeing people graduate college, start their families and remain sequestered in areas where everyone looks and thinks like them. They’re members of the church; they’re members of their chapters of their particular Greek-letter organization. And that does create a certain level of separation, I believe in between the folks who have achieved this level of success and the community members that they started their lives with, in a lot of ways. I think that it becomes more imperative to not only go back, but to go back with the intention of staying. And not just during times of community service, but to live in these places, to go to the stores, to go to the churches, to socialize with them to have those deep conversations just to beyond a visit. I think that it becomes a little harder, because a variety of reasons too big for me to list here, around the barriers of access to go back to those communities to have those tough conversations. I believe that there are some solutions that can be reached, but I’m not sure we’re there just yet.
Watch the Recording
Davie: Interfaith America believes in the value and strength of faith traditions or philosophical traditions, of spiritual traditions, in being sources of inspiration, power, energy, direction, clarity of thought, for how we order, manage our lives, and make meaning in this world. I’m curious to hear from each of you if I can intrude a little bit into your spiritual faith, philosophical lives. What helps you as you tap that source, that well? Is there a particular philosophical framework, spiritual word, particular faith orientation for any of you?
Dr. Illya Davis: When I’m motivated to care, it can’t be because I’m like you. It’s fundamentally because you and I have nothing in common, Brother Davie, that I have to love you. I don’t want to be a narcissist and love you because you’re me, and I think a lot of us look for that, right? Oh, we’re the same. No, we’re not. And the love has to be representative of that fundamental difference that makes us beautiful people.
Dr. Vivian Carter: I’m the daughter of a military officer and a health care worker. And what they always tell me is “faith without works is dead.” Faith without works is dead; you got to do the work. And God has given you a gift and a talent: use it.
Dr. Bambi Gaddist: I would quote the Scripture from the book of Ecclesiastes, the book of Sirach chapter 38, where it talks about sickness and medicine. And what guides me in this space is to continue our mission, we are called into this work with my community, to help them understand that s there is healing in traditional medicine, but there is also science in medicine, and that we have to find a equilibrium between the two because we’re all going to expire at some point. But in the meantime, we can rely on herbs and things that are traditional healing practices but we better pay attention to science. And God put physicians on this earth to heal, and he works through them and through them. We can be healed and live longer. And so that is my quest to continue to push that message that it’s not one thing or another. It’s a joint balance of both things, and we need to pay attention and educate ourselves about it.
Kolbey Gardner: As a Black, queer Christian man, I’m encouraged daily by my community – a group of resilient individuals who come from different socio-economic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, but each of us have found a strength within us to continue to do the work, continue to love, though it’s hard and they encouraged me every day to get up and go love my neighbor in the best way possible, like Christ compelled us to.