Pick Up The Slack Abstract

The rise of social networking in the United States has allowed for people to become more immediately connected and therefore be exposed to new experiences. We have seen a subsequent increase in young people using their voices on social media to express disdain for political decisions and bring awareness to various social issues. In kind, companies like Khan Academy and Kahoot! are using their digital platforms as a means of providing access to education on a variety of subjects.

My honors project, “Pick Up The Slack” is an original, four-episode podcast series that aims to serve those inclined toward civic engagement and social justice through a digital medium. With the growing popularity of podcasts, “Pick Up The Slack” is intended to continue the conversations surrounding social justice and activism. This four-part podcast series, each episode about a half hour in length, explores different social issues in the greater Rhode Island area, empowering adolescents and young adults to become more civically involved.

The four issues, sexual health, climate change, substance abuse, and power-based personal violence, are all timely in the media and thus important to my targeted audience. Each episode features two expert interviews, provides an exclusive look into how these fields are actually treating these issues, and expands on how listeners can get more involved. Episode one features infectious disease physician Dr. Phil Chan and AIDS Project Rhode Island’s Ryan White Program Director Mikel Wadewitz. The climate change episode calls on Assistant Professor Austin Becker, PhD in the Department of Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island and social science researcher and coastal management extension specialist Dawn Kotowicz, PhD from the Rhode Island Sea Grant and Coastal Resources Center. The third episode discusses substance abuse with Kelley Ryan, the Assistant Director of Substance Abuse prevention for the University of Rhode Island, and Community Engagement Coordinator Diego Arene-Morley at RICares. The final episode in this series unpacks power-based personal violence with the URI Violence Prevention, and Advocacy Services Coordinator Racine Amos.

A paid Facebook marketing campaign promotes the launch of the series and the link to each episode. A total of $300 was used to pay for these ads. A social media following was built over a few months, and listeners are engaged regularly on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. After each episode, the Pick Up The Slack Facebook page aims to engage listeners in a continued dialogue on the topic with a series of questions relating to the episode content. The success of the series can measured in how productively it adds to the existing conversations online as opposed to producing quantitative data. By empowering the audience with the knowledge to participate more in dialogues surrounding these issues, it creates a more strongly civically-minded community.

HIV/AIDS Education Efforts in RI High Schools

Overview

The Civic Action Project affords students the opportunity to directly engage in the community in order to promote HIV/AIDS education, advocacy, and prevention. We of group one, Sara LiVecchi, Lance Faria, and Elysha Ravitch, decided to engage with the community by entering high schools across Rhode Island. As a group, we decided we wanted to educate high schoolers after realizing the clear discrepancies that all three of us had in regards to the amount of information about HIV/AIDS that we learned in our own high schools. While Lance had a comprehensive background with HIV/AIDS, Sara and Elysha received minimal information about it, which was something we wanted to change for the current high school population.

We collectively agreed that high schoolers were the ideal audience because high school is when individuals typically begin to become sexually active. Our hope was to educate high schoolers prior to engaging in “risky” sexual acts in order to reduce transmission rates. We also assumed that if we stressed to students that HIV/AIDS is still prominent in our country today, it would cause students to take greater precaution and even become more civically engaged.

Being as we had a limited amount of time to teach at each high school, we realized we would have to condense our information. Because of this, we decided that our focus would be to educate the students on basic HIV/AIDS knowledge, transmission and prevention, and community resources available. We particularly wanted to emphasize the opportunities to get involved, as we visited schools during World AIDS Week and felt it was pertinent to encourage the youth to become active in their communities as well.

Research

Our research began with the resources we analyzed for our HPR 310 class. We knew that it was important to use well-known, scholarly sources to help cultivate effective ethos. We first located our statistics, transmission, and contraception information from the CDC’s website. For Elysha to write our skit about talking to a friend about HIV, she found true stories from a BBC video about positive individuals sharing their status with family or friends. Additionally, she was able to compile a list of helpful and harmful phrases and actions from information we found on a website sponsored by the Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund. We gathered the information for how to get involved in the community from the websites for AIDS Project Rhode Island, AIDS Care Ocean State, and the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Campaign. For the brief overview of the history of he HIV/AIDS crisis, we used our knowledge from class resources such as Randy Shilts’ And The Band Played On.

Methodologies

To begin, we sent out emails to nine schools and called one school that did not have an email address on their website. Mt. Hope High School (Mt. Hope) replied first requesting an assembly style presentation for their health classes. This assembly would include students ranging from grades nine to twelve and would have to focus on abstinence-first education, but we were welcome to bring and discuss condoms. The next school to contact us was South Kingstown High School (SKHS)  requesting for us to come in and meet with their health education team. Two weeks before our proposed presentation date, Sara and Elysha went in to talk about the knowledge that the students already had and what the health teachers specifically wanted us to cover. We learned that these students watch And The Band Played On and will have received a modest HIV/AIDS education the week before our proposed visit date. We worked together to create an outline for a lesson plate and set our date for Monday, November 27th.

When creating our presentations, we decided to use a Kahoot! quiz as an opening activity and teaching tool for both schools. Kahoot! is a online-based quiz game that is used to make fun quizzes, discussions, and surveys. We used the quiz mode so we could test students’ existing knowledge and create an opportunity to challenge any misconceptions they may still have  harbored. Our Kahoot! for the SKHS presentation had some basic questions about transmission as well as more complex ones about multiple strains of HIV, PrEP and PEP, and IV drug use.

Next, we decided to cover both “male” and “female” condom usage because it is the easiest and most accessible form of prevention. We also showed some relevant statistics and facilitated a skit to help understand how to converse with a friend or loved one with HIV. After the skit, we unpacked different elements of the dialogue and sorted them into categories of what was helpful or harmful to the interaction. We finished off by talking about how to get involved in the community, different events they could attend, and places to find free and confidential testing. We covered AIDS project Rhode Island, AIDS Care Ocean State, and the CDC’s Act Against AIDS campaign. We planned to end with opening up for discussion and an exit Kahoot! poll to evaluate the effectiveness of our presentation.

We had to change our presentation for Mt. Hope because of the student’s different knowledge base and because it would need to fit into a 90-minute block instead of the 45-minute block SK gave us. We put more introductory information into this quiz, like the difference between HIV and AIDS, basic transmission information, and so on. After the Kahoot! we added a video from the CDC website of people disclosing their HIV positive status as a means of calling people to action to raise awareness. We also added in a brief overview of the history of HIV to familiarize our audience with the crisis. The rest of our presentation covered the same information as the one for SKHS. However, for this presentation, we decided to take questions after each section, and then also have a discussion at the end for anything else that the students wanted to know.  

South Kingstown High School

On the day of our first presentation, Monday, November 27, we arrived at South Kingstown High School at about 7:00 A.M. Our presentation was held in Karen Murphy’s classroom; it was she who took the most initiative when we met with the health education team a few weeks prior. Our only request was to ensure that all health classes meeting within the period would convene in this classroom so that we would not have to split up our trio. The setup took only a matter of seconds as Ms. Murphy’s computer was ready for us to log into our Google Slides account and project our powerpoint onto the board.

We began every presentation by introducing ourselves and then reminding everyone that they had learned about the HIV/AIDS crisis the previous week. Since we were presenting on the first day back from Thanksgiving Break, we figured that little disclaimer would be necessary. Our next step was to dive right into the Kahoot! quiz on our first slide. Upon clicking the link, we were redirected to the Kahoot! website which displays a code for students to enter into their devices so they can participate in the quiz. At this point, students were able to create nicknames for themselves to be identified as throughout the game. Most students simply entered their first names and last initial, but some found entertainment in creating names that were offensive plays on the words “gay” and “AIDS”. As they were projected onto the screen, whoever of us was controlling the computer was able to immediately block the names.

Once the Kahoot! began, students were often vocal as they answered the questions in their devices. We took inspiration from this and decided to have Kahoot! Be our main teaching tool throughout this presentation. Originally, we were planning on relying on student questions, but there were not often many. After each correct answer was revealed, we would take a moment to first ask the students if they knew why this was so and then go on to explain why this is the correct answer. The three of us alternated questions to ensure that we all spoke equally.

After finishing the quiz, we asked students to return their devices to their bags. Lance took over at this point to speak about the importance of condom usage and its effectiveness. The South Kingstown health education team provided us with a wooden model penis structure and some condoms to demonstrate the proper way to use a condom. Lance was able to deliver this part of our presentation with masterfully inclusive language.

The next slide featured basic statistics about HIV/AIDS in the United States. Sara spoke about these while Lance put away our trusted model penis and Elysha brought out her supplies for the next segment. After entertaining usually a few questions about what it means to die of “complications from AIDS”, we moved on to another interactive portion of the presentation. Elysha introduced her skit by clarifying that the phrases included come directly from what HIV positive individuals say they have been asked before once they disclose their status. For our first presentation, Elysha and Sara acted out the parts ourselves because the group was so quiet. For every other presentation, we asked for student volunteers to read the roles. Usually there was some laughter as the roles were intended for two straight, cisgendered females to perform, but were often performed by two male-presenting individuals. We were able to control the outbursts well enough to proceed with the following discussion. Lance and Sara took turns asking the students what was something helpful that happened in the dialogue and what was something harmful. After we received a few responses for each, we would provide a list of what we found in our research to be helpful tips for how to talk to someone with HIV.

To further work towards our goal of instilling a community mentality in the students, we spoke about how they can get involved in HIV/AIDS events and organizations in Rhode Island. Elysha discussed the work of AIDS Project Rhode Island and AIDS Care Ocean State. In doing so, she was able to educate our students about the exciting events these organizations hold and hopefully stir up some excitement within them as well. She next addressed the Act Against AIDS Campaign by breaking it down into its five parts and explaining how the students could get involved in each one.

The following slide is where we would pause for questions. Unfortunately, this is also where we ran out of time during more vocal classes, so we would have to speed through to our exit survey Kahoot!. Even when we did pause for questions at this juncture, no one had asked any. It was more effective to expect questions during the context of our presentation.

Our exit poll was entitled “What Do You Know Now?” and was a means of gauging our audience’s level of reception to our information as well as our own effectiveness as presenters. The results from these polls are detailed under the “Outcomes” section of our report.

The first class was quiet, but given that it was 7:30 A.M., this was to be expected. There was still a fair amount of participation, but not many students asked questions. Everyone was able to participate in ou Kahoot! by means of a smartphone or a laptop. The second class was much more difficult to manage. Since we were combining classes, some of the periods had two or three classes at once all crammed into a single classroom. This class in particular had nearly 50 students. We speculate that they had heard about our first presentation through the grapevine between classes, because they were already chatting excitedly amongst themselves. Every class after that one was much more lively, but not nearly as disrespectful. For our second class, Ms. Murphy had to stop our presentation to reprimand the students for being immature and interrupting us. It became easier to expect what classes would be more well-behaved than others based on who their teacher was. Some of the teachers simply had better relationships with their students than others; it was the classes with better student-teacher relationships that were more respectful to us.  

In our final exit poll of the day, we had to address an exceptionally distressing Kahoot! name that someone had submitted: “haha so gay.” Sara asked everyone to put down their devices and look at the board. Given the nature of our presentation, Sara calmly explained that this name is an offensive choice not only because of the sensitive topic we discussed, but also because the three of us created a custom lesson plan and sacrificed an entire day to present it only for it to become a joke. They were momentarily silent, but livened right up again once the poll started. Because of our run in with offensive names, we disabled this feature for Mt. Hope.

Mt. Hope High School

We visited Mt. Hope High School on Wednesday, November 29. For this school, we were only able to accommodate one assembly-style presentation from 8:15 A.M. to 9:40 A.M. including all the health and fitness classes that were in session during that block.  There was more potential for error with this school because the person Lance was communicating with was not going to be in school that day. Instead, we would be working with John Lawson, one of the health educators. Though he seemed underprepared for our arrival, he was not concerned. We were quickly set up in the auditorium with a projector, screen, and a microphone. Lance had requested condoms and a model penis like we had at South Kingstown High School, but our emails went ignored. We had to rush to set up, so there was no time for us to ensure that we could obtain these materials before students started flooding in.

As Elysha mentioned, we had to alter our presentation to include more basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS because Mt. Hope had no experience with this topic. With this presentation, we had the privilege of nearly twice as much time, so we had the freedom to add some helpful slides. Elysha mentioned earlier how we created an entirely new Kahoot! quiz for this school and it focused more on questions about the basics of the disease and the crisis. Similarly to our last presentation, we used the website as a teaching tool by pausing to explain the information after each question. We added a slide after the quiz with a video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV/AIDS awareness campaign called “Let’s Stop HIV Together”. This 30-second video was meant to show students that many different types of people are susceptible to contracting HIV, not just one specific demographic. Next, we provided students with a brief history of the crisis starting with the 1980s and glossing over what we had learned so far in HPR 310. We then continued the presentation as planned for at South Kingstown with the condom slides, but this time without the physical demonstration, then we moved onto the skit, the discussion about what was helpful and harmful, our resources for getting involved, a discussion block, and the exit poll.

What was different about this presentation was a surprising level of engagement. It was fortunate that we had so much extra time because we used every minute of it to answer questions. Students were asking specific and pertinent questions with confidence. One student in the front row wanted to ask a question about transmitting HIV via cunnilingus but was unsure of how to properly phrase it. When we told her not to be concerned with being professional or correct, she just asked “can you get HIV from eating a girl out?” and no one batted an eye when we answered her truthfully. Students were surprisingly unphased by questions about sex and sexuality. This experience was arguable more fruitful than the first – or at least it seemed so – because of how safe the students felt to speak their minds.

After wrapping up, a few students remained to ask a few lasting questions. We all had class in an hour, so we had to rush out, but not before the health teachers could thank us and tell us we were more than welcome to come back and teach again if we could.

HIV/AIDS Education, Prevention, and Awareness

By taking the time to visit two local high schools and present about HIV/AIDS, we are demonstrating to not only the students and teachers, but to our peers that this issue is worth educating about. High school students seeing college students come in and talk are bound to view the issue more seriously than as if it is simply another week in their high school curriculum. Also, the teachers found it exciting for us to want to come in to begin with. Karen Murphy of SKHS was especially thrilled when we wanted to come teach because of her personal connections with the crisis. When we went in to meet with the health education team at SKHS, we were overwhelmed by how much information Ms. Murphy shared about her experiences and how much passion she had for the issue. At both schools, upon finishing our presentation, we were asked to return and teach other grades as well. This speaks to how effective we were at supporting the importance of education. Equally important was the effect we had on our peers. When we told our friends about what we had planned to do that week, we were met with confusion by some, which became an excellent teaching moment, and praise from others.

Our presentations focused heavily on prevention and awareness. By teaching about the importance of condom usage and the trickiness of PrEP and PEP, we stressed that it is paramount to be preventing oneself from being exposed to the virus in the first place. Although we worked to break misconceptions about HIV/AIDS being a “death sentence,” we also wanted to be realistic in advocating for avoiding contraction instead of simply feeling confident that one could receive the necessary medical treatment to live a long and healthy life. By providing information about resources throughout the state and organizations who are working towards raising awareness, we in turn raised awareness amongst our audiences. Many students made remarks about how frightening this could be because of how undereducated they were about HIV/AIDS. Even recognizing this fact alone raises necessary awareness about the issue in order to take the steps to change it.

Outcomes

Due to the discrepancy in the amount of information about HIV/AIDS students that South Kingstown High School and Mt. Hope High School received in their health classes, we had different outcomes from both schools. Going into each school, we had a different goal as to what we wanted to achieve in our presentation, and modified each presentation in order to meet the respective goals. Since SKHS had prior knowledge about HIV/AIDS, we wanted to test the knowledge they had gained in their health classes and elaborate on why this topic is so important. After presenting, we were able to analyze the data gained via the Kahoot! surveys administered during the presentation. In our pre-quiz survey, consisting of 11 basic HIV/AIDS questions, we found that SKHS students had a solid amount of pre-existing knowledge about HIV/AIDS. From the results gathered from the Kahoot!, we received an aggregate total of 68.5% correct answers in comparison to 31.5% incorrect answers based on 162 students taking the 11-question pre-quiz (Figure 1). From this information, we were able to see which information to emphasize in the presentation and adjust accordingly. When we finished our presentation, we had students also take and exit-quiz to evaluate if we had met our goals we had set initially. In regards to gaining more general knowledge pertaining to HIV/AIDS, 151 students at SKHS responded “Definitely yes” or “Kinda yes” as demonstrated in figure 2 (Figure 2).

Along with the basic general HIV/AIDS information we taught students about, it was our goal to teach information about the transmission and prevention of the virus. There were 131 students who reported that they gained the tools necessary to protect themselves from contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS (Figure 3). We wanted to emphasize the importance of getting involved in the community and getting tested since it was the week of World AIDS Day. From our exit survey, we found that 136 students felt that they knew how and where they could get involved in the community (Figure 4). These results established that we have met our intended goals from when we created our presentation in November.

While we had met the goals we had set for the SKHS presentation, there were additional outcomes we had not accounted for. Being that we were dealing with a high school student population, we did not take into account students’ maturity levels. Some students neglected to take our presentation seriously., whereas other students seemed more aware of the importance of the topic and were invested in the presentation. However, we were pleasantly surprised when multiple students in various classes asked: “why doesn’t everyone get tested?”

We had different goals and expectations for Mt. Hope, as they had no previous background information. It was important for us to stress why learning about HIV/AIDS was more relevant now than ever. Similar to SKHS, we used a pre-quiz survey, consisting of 15 basic HIV/AIDS questions, and found that Mt. Hope students had a moderate amount of knowledge about HIV/AIDS. We received an aggregate total of 59.0% correct answers based on 71 students who took the pre-quiz (Figure 5). While there were more than 71 students in the auditorium, the mean participation on each question was 71, so our statistics are based on that figure. Based on the information obtained from the pre-quiz, we were able to see what information to emphasize in the presentation and adjusted accordingly.

Similarly to the presentation at SKHS, we had students take and exit quiz. For general knowledge pertaining to HIV/AIDS, students at Mt. Hope High School responded overwhelmingly that they felt more knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS (Figure 6). Aside from the general HIV/AIDS information we taught students about, we emphasized content regarding transmission and prevention of the virus. After our presentation, 45 out of 58 respondents reported that they felt that they had the tools to protect themselves from contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS (Figure 7). Even though Mt. Hope’s presentation was less geared towards community action in comparison to South Kingstown, we still found it valuable to test their knowledge about the resources we taught them. From our exit survey, we found that 34 out of 42  respondents felt that they knew how and where they could get involved in the community (Figure 8). Just like with SKHS, we definitely met our goals for education, prevention, and awareness at Mt. Hope High School.

Individual Reflections

Sara

I spent my freshman and sophomore years working with the Women’s Center to teach power-based personal violence, drug abuse, and sexual health to incoming students. Then, this past summer I taught the entire incoming class about sexual assault, consent, and the appropriate resources at URI. Those two experiences paired with my prospective degrees in Communication Studies and Writing & Rhetoric afforded me the ability to assist in facilitating an effective classroom-style and lecture-style learning experience.

Working at these schools further solidified my interest in educating about sexual health and sexual communication. I thoroughly enjoy working with adolescent-age individuals with these topics because I know they can be uncomfortable. I bring out my childlike humor and shameless immaturity in these situations to help students feel more at ease. I will admit that the first teaching experience was difficult. Since there were so many moments of disrespectful outbursts, it felt overwhelmingly unsuccessful. It was not until our final HPR 310 class that I learned to appreciate the victories instead of dwelling on the negatives from this experience. I felt more at ease during the Mt. Hope lecture-style presentation because that is what I am more accustomed to. It is easier for me to speak about intimate and uncomfortable topics at a more respectable distance. Being at student-level but from over five feet away felt much more manageable than speaking down to students standing at the front of the room but within only a few feet of the first row. From a pedagogical perspective, this experience helped me to see my strengths and weaknesses with public speaking.

I gained two primary insights from our teaching experience. The first is that it is seemingly impossible to draw someone in to care about an issue that she or he does not already. Some students’ reactions of eye-rolling or laughter to some things we said were heartbreaking. The second is that regardless of how hard we try, the issues we are fighting for will not be resolved overnight, but that does not mean that we cannot change one person’s perspective in just one interaction. There were probably more students than we could have even imagined that left school the day we visited thinking about HIV/AIDS. Even if just one student remembers that HIV transmission is possible from more than just blood-to-blood contact, then we have something to celebrate.

Elysha

The Civic Action Project was a great learning experience. When first learning about the project, I was excited to get involved in the community. Although, I had never taught anything other than class presentations before, I knew that I wanted to go and teach in high schools. This is because I find the lack of education that I received about HIV/ AIDS in high school appalling, and wanted the chance to prevent that lack of education from happening to someone else.

        Going into the project, I felt confident. I am comfortable with public speaking, so I thought that this would be no problem for me. Suffice to say that I was wrong; I did not know how to command a classroom, or how to get the students to pay attention to me. I felt overwhelmed. Luckily, Sara and Lance had experience teaching and I was able to learn from watching them, and asking them questions. By the end of the third class, I was more comfortable and began enjoying myself. I think that these are important skills for me to know, especially going into the field of nursing. I will be put into situations where I have to explain complicated medical information to patients and their families. As a result of this civic engagement project, I feel much more comfortable doing that.  

        This was also my first experience reaching out into a community to promote something that I care about. Overall, I think it went well. Consequently, I feel more confident speaking out about the issues that I am passionate about. I have always been scared of facing only rejection when I speak about issues that I care about. This experience changed that for me. For once, I feel like people would listen to what I had to say. I know it is not realistic to think that everyone will listen, but I now feel confident that I can reach at least one person. All in all, I am excited to apply the skills and newfound confidence that I gained from this project to other parts of my life.

Lance

When reflecting on the Civic Action Project, I can only think of positive takeaways from this experience. First and foremost, having the opportunity to enter the community and essentially serve as a community health educator further solidified that this type of work is what I want to do with my life. While I have previously done high school outreach, teaching about a topic that I was both passionate about and well educated on made all the difference in comparison to teaching about opioids. Being able to engage people about topics that pertain to their health is extremely rewarding to me, and the satisfaction that comes when you know you made a difference in someone’s life is something I will never take for granted. I am extremely proud of the content we as a group created, and I feel as if I could use the high level of work produced in a portfolio when applying to community health jobs.

Aside from the potential career benefits this project has provided me, the Civic Action Project enabled me to gain confidence in my ability to make meaningful connections with people. When I heard back from the majority of the high schools I contacted, I can honestly say I was surprised I when they remembered who I was. The fact that my work has actually made enough of a difference that busy high school administrators and teachers remember who I am shows just how much of a difference this type of work has on people.

In this course, we have previously discussed where we can find hope among the AIDS crisis, and I feel like this project is a prime example of finding hope. With all of the work associated with the Civic Action Project, it made me realize that so many people still care about the AIDS crisis, and are willing to be educated about the topic. At all levels: school administrators, teachers, and students, everyone was extremely receptive to our ideas and wanted us to spread the knowledge that we were fortunate to gain from this class. It gives me hope that if more individuals take action like we did, people will be willing to listen and real change can take place in our society.  

Works Cited

AIDS Care Ocean State. (2017). Mission and History. Retrieved from http://www.aidscareos.org/AboutUs/MissionandHistory.aspx

BBC Three (Director). (2016, September 15). Things Not To Say To Someone Who’s HIV Positive [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDpFXxGdAXE

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (Director). (2012, July 13). CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRF5p96JD9k&feature=youtu.be

Hourahan, Stephen. “About Us.” AIDS Project Rhode Island, Family Service of Rhode Island, 2017, aidsprojectri.org/about-us.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Act Against AIDS.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Aug. 2017, www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/campaigns.html.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, December 12). HIV/AIDS Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prevention.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, November 30). HIV/AIDS Statistics Overview. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/index.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017, June 06). HIV/AIDS Transmission. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/transmission.html

Secretary’s Minority AIDS Initiative Fund. (2017, August 31). Supporting Someone Living with HIV. Retrieved from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/making-a-difference/supporting-someone-living-with-hiv

Appendix

Figure 1 (n=162).

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5 Mt. Hope High School Pre-Quiz Results (n=71).

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8

South Kingstown High School Lesson Plan

Kahoot!

  • My partner and I both have HIV, does that mean that we can have unprotected sex without risk.
    • False: There are multiple strains of the virus and you and your partner may not have the same strain; becoming infected with multiple strains is likely to make your body even more resistant to treatment and therefore make your quality of life all the more difficult.
  • ART is effective in treating all strains of HIV/AIDS.
    • False: Some strains are drug resistant.
  • HIV can be transmitted by which of the following?
    • Option C: Blood, semen, vaginal fluids, rectal fluids and breast milk
    • Although sharing needles, mother to child during pregnancy and breastmilk are all possible means of transmitting HIV, sweat, tears, toilet seats, saliva, and insects are all NOT possible means of transmitting HIV
    • With modern medicine we have been able to minimize the risk for expecting mothers. With increased education about drugs, young people are accepting that sharing needles is a huge risk for transmitting many diseases.
  • HIV can survive outside of the human body for 3-5 days.
    • False: HIV does not survive long outside of the human body.
  • It’s easy to identify the stereotypical symptoms of HIV/AIDS in an individual.
    • False: There are no stereotypical symptoms of HIV or AIDS. People become sick with other infections that attack more aggressively because of their weakened immune system. Everyone manifests their symptoms (if any) differently, therefore you can’t look at someone and suspect they have HIV/AIDS.
  • There is no cure for HIV.
    • True: While there are treatments available, such as ART or antiretroviral therapy, there is no vaccine or medicine that eradicates the virus from your body. Some cases of people who claim to have been cured have come out, but these are people whose viral loads have dropped so low that they are undetectable in an HIV test.
  • Sharing needles with family members is better than sharing with strangers or friends.
    • False: Sharing needles is always bad, a lot of diseases can be transmitted that way.
    • Don’t do drugs
  • The vast majority of people with HIV are living in low- to – middle income countries.
    • True: The lack of access to education and modern medicine causes the numbers to be higher in low- to – middle income countries.
  • PrEP will 100% prevent me from contracting HIV from my HIV positive partner.
    • False: PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a series of pills that must be taken at the exact same time every day in order to build up a resistance to the virus. It is most effective (like hormonal birth control) when used in tandem with condoms to prevent the intermingling of genital fluids and/ or blood.
  • The most “risky” position to contract HIV is to be on the receiving end of unprotected anal sex.
    • True: the membrane in the anus is very thin, which causes it to be more susceptible to micro-tears which could allow semen and other genital fluids access directly into the bloodstream
  • My doctor will definitely offer me an HIV test based on what I tell them about my sexual history.
    • False: Some doctors do not offer, you have to ask. There is some stigma that a doctor may be trying to avoid and/ or there is a cost associated with the test, so they do not want to ask. There are resources that will provide you with FREE and CONFIDENTIAL testing.
  • If my partner is HIV positive and we have unprotected sex, I will 100% contract HIV.
    • False: There is a very small chance that you will not contract HIV, but it is not worth the risk.
  • It’s okay to have sex without a condom if both my partner and I are already HIV positive.
    • False: Have the students say why it is false.
    • There are multiple strains of the virus and you and your partner may not have the same strain; becoming infected with multiple strains is likely to make your body even more resistant to treatment and therefore make your quality of life all the more difficult.
  • Cisgendered and trans women are at higher risk for HIV than cisgendered men
    • True: Women are more likely to be receiving penetration orally, anally, or vaginally and therefore are more likely to receive blood or genital fluid contact. There is also a higher likelihood of being sexually assaulted and having the virus transmitted that way.
  • I am at risk for HIV/AIDS
    • True, everyone is at risk

Condoms

  • Condoms are a type of barrier used during sex. There are a couple different kinds of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.
  • Male Condom – Is worn over the penis
  • Female condom – Is worn inside the vagina or anus
  • When condoms are used correctly and consistently, they protect you from STD’s, STI’s, pregnancy, and HIV.
  • The only sure way to be 100% risk free is to be abstinent

Statistics

  • 1.1 million people in the US have HIV
    • 1 in 7 of those people not aware of their status
    • About 44% of HIV positive people between the ages of 13-24 do not know their status
  • 39,513 new diagnosis in 2015
  • 6,721 people died of complications from AIDS in the US in 2014

How to help someone with HIV/ AIDS Skit

  • Friend one: I need to talk to you about something, but you have to promise you won’t freak out
  • Friend two: Okay, I promise I won’t freak out
  • Friend one: I just got tested for HIV and it came back positive
  • Friend two: Wait, what? How did you get it, I didn’t think that you were promiscuous?
  • Friend one: I’m not, it was with a guy I had been with for a while, we didn’t use protection … I didn’t think we had to.
  • Friend Two: Oh my G-d I can’t believe that you have HIV, does this mean that you’re going to die? And we can’t share drinks and stuff anymore? Everything’s going to change, this sucks!
  • Friend Two starts crying and friend one tries to comfort them
  • Friend One: No, No, I’m not going to die, I just have to take medications now and we can still share drinks, you can’t get HIV from saliva.
  • Friend two calms down a bit
  • Friend Two: Oh, you have to take medication, I’m so sorry. I feel so bad. And you can never have sex again, or have children, this is awful.
  • Friend One: It’s okay, I can still have sex, I just need to use protection. And I can still have kids, and my kids will be HIV negative, I just have to listen to the doctors and what they say when and if I choose to have kids. I just wanted to be able to talk to you about it, because you’re my best friend, I hope that’s okay?
  • Friend Two: Yes, of course that’s okay, I’m here for you! I want you to talk to me and I want to help you!
  • Friend One: Thank you, I am happy that you’re here for me

Ask what they think was helpful and harmful in the scenario.

Helpful Vs. Harmful

  • Ask class, “What are some helpful ways?”
  • Then tell them
    • Be available to talk
    • Treat them the same way that you did before their diagnosis
    • Listen to what they have to say and try to offer some reassurance
    • Get educated on HIV
    • Encourage them to get treatment
  • Ask class “what are some harmful ways?”
  • Then tell them
    • Force them to talk about it
    • Constantly treat them with sympathy and pity
    • Talking over them
    • Feeding into the stigma surrounding HIV

How You Can Help

  • AIDS project Rhode Island
    • AIDS walk for life
  • AIDS care ocean state
    • Drag Bingo
    • Prevention center
    • Support groups
  • CDC Act Against AIDS Campaign
    • Let’s stop HIV together
      • Basically shares real people’s stories and pictures to help fight the stigma
    • Doing It
      • Designed to motivate all adults to get tested
      • “Join the movement and use the campaign hashtag #DoingIt when you share photos and videos that raise awareness about HIV testing. It’s fast. It’s free.”
    • Start Talking. Stop HIV
      • Trying to reduce HIV contraction among queer men and other men who have sex with men by encouraging open communication about prevention with partners and friends
      • Help by talking to friends family and partners about HIV transmission …
    • HIV treatment works
      • Encourages people to get into care and stay in treatment
      • Help by ……
    • Prevention Is Care
      • Provides evidence based tools, such as brochures to doctors offices for patients and doctors
    • One Test. Two Lives.
      • Helps prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child, by encouraging all mothers to get tested early in their pregnancy

Discussion

Exit Kahoot!

Mt Hope High School Lesson Plan

Kahoot!

  • AIDS and HIV can be used interchangeably (they mean the same thing)
    • False: One is the virus that can be transmitted (HIV) and one is the syndrome that can result if the virus is left untreated (AIDS)
  • What does AIDS stand for?
    • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
  • What does HIV stand for?
    • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Which option contains only possible ways of transmitting HIV?
    • Option two: Blood, semen, vaginal fluid and rectal fluid
    • Although sharing needles, mother to child during pregnancy and breastmilk are all possible means of transmitting HIV, sweat, tears, toilet seats, saliva, and insects are all NOT possible means of transmitting HIV
    • With modern medicine we have been able to minimize the risk for expecting mothers. With increased education about drugs, young people are accepting that sharing needles is a huge risk for transmitting many diseases.
  • I can transmit AIDS to my partner if we have unprotected sex.
    • False: HIV can be transmitted, AIDS is what can occur if the virus is untreated
  • I can transmit HIV to my partner (which can become AIDS if untreated) if we have unprotected sex.
    • True: HIV is the virus, and is transmittable through unprotected sex.
  • If my partner and I both have HIV, we don’t have to worry about using protection.
    • False: There are multiple strains of the virus and you and your partner may not have the same strain; becoming infected with multiple strains is likely to make your body even more resistant to treatment and therefore make your quality of life all the more difficult.
  • What does HIV do?
    • It attacks T-Cells and weakens the immune system so that you will become vulnerable to many diseases that you would not have been vulnerable to before.
  • There is no cure for HIV/AIDS
    • True: While there are treatments available, such as ART or antiretroviral therapy, there is no vaccine or medicine that eradicates the virus from your body. Some cases of people who claim to have been cured have come out, but these are people whose viral loads have dropped so low that they are undetectable in an HIV test.
  • If I have HIV, I can’t have sex anymore
    • False: Using barrier methods to contraception, being properly treated with ART, and having your HIV negative partner (if in a long term relationship) be on PrEP can all greatly minimize any risk of transmission during sex.
  • PrEP can be used in place of condoms to have low risk sex with a positive partner
    • False: PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a series of pills that must be taken at the exact same time every day in order to build up a resistance to the virus. It is most effective (like hormonal birth control) when used in tandem with condoms to prevent the intermingling of genital fluids and/ or blood.
  • It’s easier for gay or bisexual men to contract HIV than other individuals
    • False: Though the crisis started with gay and bisexual men in the 1980’s, it is just as easily transmitted amongst all types of people with no regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, race, class, age, privilege level, etc. There are types of sex (positions) that are riskier but, no type of person is at a higher risk than another.
  • The most risky position to contract HIV is being on the receiving end of unprotected anal sex
    • True: the membrane in the anus is very thin, which causes it to be more susceptible to micro-tears which could allow semen and other genital fluids access directly into the bloodstream
  • Women (both cis and trans) are at a higher risk for contracting HIV than men (cis)
    • True: Women are more likely to be receiving penetration orally, anally, or vaginally and therefore are more likely to receive blood or genital fluid contact. There is also a higher likelihood of being sexually assaulted and having the virus transmitted that way.
  • It’s easy to identify the stereotypical symptoms of HIV/AIDS in an individual
    • False: There are no stereotypical symptoms of HIV or AIDS. People become sick with other infections that attack more aggressively because of their weakened immune system. Everyone manifests their symptoms (if any) differently, therefore you can’t look at someone and suspect they have HIV/AIDS.
  • My doctor will definitely offer me an HIV test based on what I tell them about my sexual history
    • False: Some doctors do not offer, you have to ask. There is some stigma that a doctor may be trying to avoid and/ or there is a cost associated with the test, so they do not want to ask. There are resources that will provide you with FREE and CONFIDENTIAL testing.

Video

A short history

  • There was an HIV crisis in the 80s
  • Many people were dying and no one could figure out why
    • This is because HIV attacks your immune system so there are no specific symptoms of HIV
  • Researchers were eventually able to figure out what was going on, but everyone was afraid because it was not clear how it was transmitted
    • False info, scare tactics, etc
  • Not enough funding was given, so people kept dying of complications of AIDS

Condoms

  • Condoms are a type of barrier used during sex. There are a couple different kinds of condoms, the male condom and the female condom.
  • Male Condom – Is worn over the penis
  • Female condom – Is worn inside the vagina or anus
  • When condoms are used correctly and consistently, they protect you from STD’s, STI’s, pregnancy, and HIV.
  • The only sure way to be 100% risk free is to be abstinent
    • Abstinence as you probably know means refraining from sex

Statistics

  • 1.1 million people in the US have HIV
    • 1 in 7 of those people not aware of their status
    • About 44% of HIV positive people between the ages of 13-24 do not know their status
  • 39,513 new diagnosis in 2015
  • 6,721 people died of complications from AIDS in the US in 2014

How to help someone with HIV/ AIDS skit

  • Friend one: I need to talk to you about something, but you have to promise you won’t freak out
  • Friend two: Okay, I promise I won’t freak out
  • Friend one: I just got tested for HIV and it came back positive
  • Friend two: Wait, what? How did you get it, I didn’t think that you were promiscuous?
  • Friend one: I’m not, it was with a guy I had been with for a while, we didn’t use protection … I didn’t think we had to.
  • Friend Two: Oh my G-d I can’t believe that you have HIV, does this mean that you’re going to die? And we can’t share drinks and stuff anymore? Everything’s going to change, this sucks!
  • Friend Two starts crying and friend one tries to comfort them
  • Friend One: No, No, I’m not going to die, I just have to take medications now and we can still share drinks, you can’t get HIV from saliva.
  • Friend two calms down a bit
  • Friend Two: Oh, you have to take medication, I’m so sorry. I feel so bad. And you can never have sex again, or have children, this is awful.
  • Friend One: It’s okay, I can still have sex, I just need to use protection. And I can still have kids, and my kids will be HIV negative, I just have to listen to the doctors and what they say when and if I choose to have kids. I just wanted to be able to talk to you about it, because you’re my best friend, I hope that’s okay?
  • Friend Two: Yes, of course that’s okay, I’m here for you! I want you to talk to me and I want to help you!
  • Friend One: Thank you, I am happy that you’re here for me

Ask what they think was helpful and harmful in the scenario

Helpful Vs. Harmful

  • Ask class, “What are some helpful ways?”
  • Then tell them
    • Be available to talk
    • Treat them the same way that you did before their diagnosis
    • Listen to what they have to say and try to offer some reassurance
    • Get educated on HIV
    • Encourage them to get treatment
  • Ask class “what are some harmful ways?”
  • Then tell them
    • Force them to talk about it
    • Constantly treat them with sympathy and pity
    • Talking over them
    • Feeding into the stigma surrounding HIV

How You Can Help

  • AIDS project Rhode Island
    • AIDS walk for life
  • AIDS care ocean state
    • Drag Bingo
    • Prevention center
    • Support groups
  • CDC Act Against AIDS Campaign
    • Let’s stop HIV together
      • Basically shares real people’s stories and pictures to help fight the stigma
    • Doing It
      • Designed to motivate all adults to get tested
      • “Join the movement and use the campaign hashtag #DoingIt when you share photos and videos that raise awareness about HIV testing. It’s fast. It’s free.”
    • Start Talking. Stop HIV
      • Trying to reduce HIV contraction among queer men and other men who have sex with men by encouraging open communication about prevention with partners and friends
      • Help by talking to friends family and partners about HIV transmission …
    • HIV treatment works
      • Encourages people to get into care and stay in treatment
    • Prevention Is Care
      • Provides evidence based tools, such as brochures to doctors offices for patients and doctors
    • One Test. Two Lives.
      • Helps prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child, by encouraging all mothers to get tested early in their pregnancy

Discussion

Exit Kahoot

Epicene or Obscene?

The concept of gender identity is an ever-evolving concept in practice, but not as efficiently in writing. Specifically, English speakers use traditional binaries in a way that is unintentionally exclusionary to gender non-conforming individuals. Limiting acceptable singular, gender-neutral pronouns, known as “epicenes”, only to she or he assumes that people are not capable of having flexible or non-traditional identities. Since there are many different identities for people to use, it would make sense for the language these individuals speak to represent them in the same way. We already use he, she, and sometimes they as epicenes informally, but maybe it is time to consider a more serious transition. The following articles explore different perceptions on the debate over whether it is more appropriate to be sensitive to gender identity or to adhere to longstanding, traditional grammar rules.

1. “Gender Inclusivity or ‘Grammar Rules OK’? Linguistic Prescriptivism vs Linguistic Discrimination in the Classroom.”

This article discusses the debate over which singular pronoun can replace the previously widely accepted he as a generic, non-gendered pronoun. According to feminist or non-sexist language ideals, using the term he as the generic pronoun is unfitting for our rapidly changing society (Pauwels and Winter 128). The words she and he as alternative general pronouns are the most hotly debated. She is used as a generic pronoun as it “elevates a feminine gender pronoun to the status” of the historically accepted masculine pronoun (Pauwels and Winter 128). Although the option was intended with feminist ideals in mind, using she has not been favorable with “linguistic purists and prescriptivists”, nor has it been nearly as widely used as he (Pauwels and Winter 129).  Still, she is less offensive to those concerned with the preservation of traditional grammar rules than using they, because using they as an epicene is technically incorrect in terms of pronoun-antecedent agreement. Though it is paramount to consider preferred gender identity in these situations, there are more detriments to using they than just breaking traditional grammar rules.  As linguistic scholar Maciej Baranowski explains, it may also be difficult to understand the context of the text if they is used instead of something inherently singular.

2. “Current Usage of the Epicene Pronoun in Written English.”

Baranowski affirms feminists’ distaste for using he as the generic singular pronoun, and addresses the difficulty with motioning to accept they as a valid alternative. Part of why they is unpopular can be linked back to an experiment done by Donald MacKay in 1980. MacKay replaced all instances of he as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun with they in a series of texts and evaluated the differences in the two variations (Baranowski 379). He found that there were some benefits, but also some very clear drawbacks: “ambiguity, loss of precision, distancing and dehumanizing connotations, and possible disruption for the plural dimension in English” (Baranowski 380). These drawbacks listed were considered to outweigh any potential benefits, so the usage of they was further condemned.

Though MacKay’s conclusions seem adamant, many social scientists vehemently disagree with him. They even predict that they will soon come to be accepted as a part of formal English (Baranowski 382). By exploring numerous experiments over the last few decades, Baranowski has been able to determine that they is becoming more commonplace in both formal and informal language. In this article, he compares his research to his own project to “study the occurrence of the alternative forms of the English epicene pronoun” between American and British writers (Baranowski 382). Baranowski asserts that we have returned to a place where all three discussed pronouns – he, she, and they – have an equal place of prominence in societal usage. He furthers his point to argue that they is becoming a more dominant preference, but it depends on cultural context (Baranowski 382). Baranowski finds that it is actually British writers who are more likely to use the singular they than American writers, which is what he considers the most unique aspect of this study. All in all, there is significant reason to believe that they is once again becoming accepted.

3. “Singular ‘They’”

According to section 5.256 of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, they is an accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun in the informal sense. The manual denounces variations such as sh/e or (wo)man as “clumsy” (“Singular ‘They’”). They is not yet officially recognized as acceptable in formal writing, but it is acknowledged as an alternative that is gaining popularity. The manual addresses grammar versus consideration for gender ambiguity as follows: “some people identify not with a gender-specific pronoun but instead with the pronoun they and its forms or some other gender-neutral singular pronoun; any such preference should generally be respected” (“Singular ‘They’”). In terms of grammatical correctness, the manual suggests to be wary of using they as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in formal settings. However, when it comes to using they/them/their as someone’s preferred pronoun, the manual urges writers to adhere to an individual’s preference as a means of showing respect.

4. “2015 Word of the Year”

The American Dialect Society named they as the 2015 Word of the Year for being a singular pronoun. It has been societally recognized as a means of referring to a person who does not conform to traditional gender binary standards. They is championed for having been in the English language with this function as early on as with the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen (American Dialect Society). Bill Walsh of the Washington Post is cited as saying that they “is the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun” (American Dialect Society). According to the article, people have been proposing new types of words to stand in as the epicene, but “they has the advantage of already being part of the language” according to New Words Committee’s Ben Zimmer.

The American Dialect Society has been in existence for 127 years and its members include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars (American Dialect Society). These individuals have had numerous discussions and done countless amounts of research in order to determine whether or not words are relevant enough in society to be deemed a part of the language. Since it is such an accredited and longstanding institution, it is a substantial source for writing tutors to gain insight about the validity of using they as a stand in for the exclusive he/she binary.

5. “Gendered Pronouns & Singular ‘They’”

The Purdue OWL goes even further in explaining the different reasons one may wish to use they as a singular pronoun. It recognizes that there is no gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun in the English language, and establishes that they is both popular and more officially recognized as an appropriate substitute. The OWL champions that using they is “important for people whose genders are neither male nor female”, addressing the importance of respecting gender identity in written and oral language (Berry et. al). The authors take great care in clarifying that using they is more than just an issue of grammatical correctness; it is an issue of gender inclusivity. The authors make references to other publications championing the use of they or other epicenes such as  “zie/zim/zir and sie/sie/hir”, even linking to a more extensive list featured on The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s LGBT Center’s website (Berry et. al). There is even an argument made that using they is not incorrect at all.

Frequent misconceptions and questions are addressed at the bottom of the article. The authors answer “Isn’t this incorrect grammar?” with first a simple “no”, and then an expanded response about how language and grammar are fluid beasts changing over time to adapt to our ever-changing society (Berry et. al). The authors also address the question “Is this just a trend?” with another “no”, referencing that gender neutral pronouns have been around for a while, give that  “[t]he Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation for a gender-neutral, indefinite they is from about 1375 from the romance of William of Palerne” (Berry et. al). One final note to confirm how seriously the Purdue OWL’s contributors feel about gender inclusivity in language is that the end of the article features links to further one’s education about the concept. Clearly, this online writing lab is in stark support for they as an acceptable epicene.

6. “They”

Finally, the Merriam-Webster dictionary champions two important definitions for the word they. The first refers to the traditional usage of the word and is as follows: “used as third person pronoun serving as the plural of he, she, or it or referring to a group of two or more individuals not all of the same sex” (Merriam-Webster). The second allows us to use they as a gender neutral singular pronoun. It defines they by saying it is “often used with an indefinite third person singular antecedent” and provides this example from a New York Times article: “nobody has to go to school if they don’t want to” (Merriam-Webster). By providing a New York Times example, the ethos of the usage is enhanced further, because an editor of such an esteemed publication would not have allowed such a usage were it no inherently intentional by all involved parties.

Conclusion

As evident, many scholars agree that using they to honor a person’s preferred pronouns and allow for gender ambiguity is imperative in the usage of the  English language. However, it is not unanimously agreed upon, so there is still room for contrasting opinions. Overall, scholars are imploring writers to be respectful of non-binary individuals when writing, so that seems to be of utmost priority. In reference to liberal arts-type writing, it is safe to say that using they will not be contested, and will even be appreciated over he or she. Where there is still some uncertainty seems to be in regard to more scientific writing, some more STEM-brained individuals may be writing without much regard to gender identity as the material they write about tends to be about mathematical or scientific topics. In terms of the liberal arts, our topics tend to be more humanistic and sociological, so it makes sense to have concerns over gender inclusivity. Overall, it is important to remember that language exists to represent the people who use it. Using singular gender-neutral pronouns as a means of gender inclusivity is just one of the many new directions that the English language is moving in.

Works Cited

“2015 Word of the Year.” American Dialect Association, n.d., 8 Jan. 2016, Washington D.C.

Baranowski, Maciej. “Current usage of the epicene pronoun in written English.” Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol. 6, no. 3, 2002, pp. 378-397. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, University of Pennsylvania.

Berry, Chris, et. al.. “Gendered Pronouns & Singular “They.” The Purdue OWL, Purdue U Writing Lab, Last edited date. 2 Nov. 2017.

Pauwels, Anne, and Joanne Winter. “Gender Inclusivity or ‘Grammar Rules OK’? Linguistic Prescriptivism vs Linguistic Discrimination in the Classroom.” Language and Education, vol. 20, no. 2, 22 Dec. 2008, pp. 127–140. Taylor and Francis Group, Routledge.

“Singular ‘they’.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online. The Chicago Manual of Style, n.d. Web 18 April 2018.

“They.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2018.

Putting the “Ow” in WOWW

Conflict Description

The evening before this year’s homecoming football game, I was involved in a conflict over power and face with a fellow member of We’re Offering Women Wisdom’s executive board. After a week of a lack of and poor communication in planning an event, I expressed a long list of frustrations I had with the leadership in our organization in such a way that caused a rift between the President and myself. The conflict was resolved within hours and the climate restored by the following morning.

We’re Offering Women Wisdom (WOWW) is an organization on campus that serves to provide mentorship and guidance for women-identified students of all ages. I joined WOWW the fall of my junior year, and by my second semester as a member, I joined the executive board as the Historian. Our co-presidents last semester were disorganized and it was frustrating for many of the upperclassmen. This fall, the new executive board took over. I maintained my position as the Historian, the Secretary and Merchandise Chair took over as President and Vice President respectively, and everyone else is new to the executive board. For the purposes of this paper, the president of WOWW will be referred to as “Anna” and the treasurer as “Maddie”.

WOWW planned to host a pre-tailgate breakfast for members and alumni in the Multicultural Center Hardge Forum at 8:00 AM on the Saturday of our homecoming football game. Friday at 6:00 PM, our treasurer Maddie texted me to ask if I could pick up the key to the Multicultural center before they closed that evening. This was the first time I had heard of needing a key to get into the building. I told her I would, and then returned to the homework I was working on. After I finished, I got dinner with some friends and completely forgot about it until later that evening. In a panic, I texted our e-board group chat asking what I should do. I became frustrated when people started suggesting we cancel the event, because it felt like we were giving up instead of finding a solution.

Finally, the Vice President suggested I call the Memorial Union and ask if they have a spare. I jumped through plenty of hoops with the front desk workers to obtain some sort of “master key”, having to surrender my student ID for the evening which meant I would be unable to get in and out of my room without RA assistance. I reported my solution to my group chat and expressed that I was frustrated that I was notified of this task so last-minute because it did not leave me any time to plan it around my schedule. I said that for events like these that require multiple people to help out, we should be prepared days in advanced instead of asking for help at the very last possible moment. Maddie texted an eye-rolling emoji and nothing else. Anna said something along the lines of the fact that we are all a team and need to work together and help out. She said it was frustrating that her and Maddie “do everything” and have to ask other people to help when they get stuck instead of us just stepping in.

Taking this more personally than I should have, I replied with a long message about how we need to plan better from the beginning in a way that involves everyone because good leadership involves delegation, not dictatorship. The conflict escalated from there into a one on one conversation between Anna and I. We began texting separately until I asked if I could just call her to work things out. After about an hour long phone call in which I directed conversation so that both of us could feel heard. We both apologized and made a plan to pick up the coffee and donuts together the following morning for our event. We decided to have an executive board meeting in the coming weeks to reaffirm everyone’s expectations and air out some frustrations in a productive manner. Anna and I agreed that it would be better for us to disseminate responsibilities for the coming week at every Thursday evening meeting and have a Tuesday afternoon check-in to see if everyone is able to do what they said they would or if they need some help. This solution was intended to avoid the last-minute rush and stress that was causing a rift in our personal relationships.

Pondy’s model of conflict can explain how this conflict came about in the first place. We began in a period of latency. There were issues boiling under the surface with the potential for conflict that were not getting addressed. We moved into the perceived conflict stage when I became frustrated with the events the night before Homecoming. I was the only one aware of the latent issues. It became a felt conflict when my attitude changed so that I became angry with Maddie and Anna. When I acted on these feelings and addressed our feelings of difference, it became a manifest conflict. In the aftermath stage, we had resolved our conflict and developed new strategies for future interaction. Our relationships were strengthened as we assessed and agreed upon our outcomes.

Psychological Theory

The Attribution Theory is useful in understanding how I acted in my conflict with Anna. This theory states that people interpret behavior in terms of its causes and we react based on that interpretation. Behavior is either interpreted as situational, meaning that the cause is due to outside forces of the conflict, or as dispositional, meaning that the cause is due to who the other party is as a person. My behavior can be explained perfectly by the fundamental attribution error. I believed that my frustration was right to express because the situation called for it, and that Anna deserved to hear my frustrations because the problem I wanted to address was due to her being a “terrible leader”. I immediately assumed that my faults were situational and that hers were dispositional. The self-serving bias factors into my perception of how I was able to help resolve the conflict. Since it went well, I attribute it to my own behavior, but I hesitate to say that any failures are due to the context of the conflict now that I know how detrimental these perceptions can be. What the Attribution Theory helps us to understand is people’s motivations in conflict and how responsibility is assigned. By thinking more critically about my own motivations and how and where I assigned responsibility, I am able to see personal areas for conflict resolution growth more clearly within myself.

Interactional Theory

I used the Theory of Reciprocity to my advantage when speaking with Anna. When I expressed how I felt, she would keep reasserting her own frustrations, and it felt like a never-ending cycle of complaints. I tried to make a shift towards a constructive path by introducing this concept of more productive turn-taking. I scaled back my own complaints and tried to trust that she understood me the first time. Instead, I tried to ask more clarifying questions and paraphrase what she said back to her to show I was listening. She began to do the same for me in a small way and it helped us out of the rut we were falling into.

Another valuable interactional theory which aids in explaining my conflict is the Social Exchange Theory. I started the conflict entirely self-interested. I wanted to create a change in the culture of WOWW without any cost to myself, so I unintentionally started a fight. Since it became exhausting and time-consuming, I decided that tactic was not worth it, so I changed my mindset. The fact that resources determine the worth of the conflict influenced me to alter the way I thought about it. Since it felt like costs were higher than rewards – and because I was getting increasingly more frustrated – I reevaluated my position and made the necessary changes.

Communication Patterns

I began the conflict by expressing my feelings of frustration to the group. After I saw that the conflict was escalating and no real solution was in sight, I moved the conflict to a one-on-one setting by texting Anna individually. I started by apologizing for the conversation getting “out of hand” and that my intention was to draw attention to my frustration so we could create more efficient solutions for the future. Anna took initiative in bringing up her feelings immediately. She told me that she felt I was disrespectful in the group chat and pinpointed the exact message which signified this behavior. Although she seemed aggressive, it was still an effective means of delivering her message.

The concept of face was significant in the communication patterns in this conflict. Anna’s face was lost when I made an attack on her leadership skills. Her retaliation was aggressive as she tried to save face in front of the group and then with myself. At first she reacted defensively which is a common practice in trying to minimize face loss. I implemented my communication skills to try to take control of the situation instead of perpetuating the cycle of defensiveness. In order to be more productive, I had to act without worrying about protecting my own face. I apologized for what I did wrong and expressed that it was more important to me that we work together instead of one of us coming out as “right”.

Consistent with the concept in our text, I knew not to enter the conflict with a specific strategy as it would make me inflexible. I decided to make a phone call to move away from our ineffective text conversation, but I did not have much else of a plan. I began with the tactic “assertiveness” when I wrote to my group chat complaining about having to give up my ID because we were too disorganized to plan ahead. This was a high degree of focus on myself without regard to others. I also used a high degree of activeness, characterized by my level of involvement in the conflict which actually helped us stay on track. I initiated the conflict, contributed dialogue, tried to control the dialogue, and made suggestions to bring the conflict to a solution. I moved to an empowerment tactic and gave Anna a fair amount of power in the situation, but I did so intentionally so she would no longer think I was trying to overshadow her. The tactic was not as effective because it only gave her the space to complain more, so I dropped that tactic and moved on. I became highly cooperative and flexible as we progressed and saw that Anna was receptive to the constructive tactics. What I did not do much of was self-disclosure. I did not think it was relevant to the conversation because our issue was over substantive topics even though it at first felt personal. Overall, my conflict style in this interaction was problem solving, characterized by high levels of assertiveness, cooperation, disclosiveness, activeness, and flexibility. There is no degree of empowerment in this style, and in the way I manifested it I did not rely much on disclosiveness, but I still think it was effective. My goal was a win/win and we were able to achieve such.

Climate & Power

The climate of this conflict can be characterized most by themes of authority and interdependence. Our discussion began as an issue of authority; the distribution of such was crucial to our dialogue. To Anna, it seemed like the distribution of authority between the two of us was unequal. Her main stance in the conflict was that I was not respecting her authority. Realistically, the authority was available to both people, but it felt like a struggle between us. The climate is also characterized by interdependence. After I made the conscious effort to switch my tactics to try to maintain the relationship, I prioritized our interdependence as something we can connect over. It was at first contrient in that it contributed to the escalation of the conflict, but it became promotive as the conflict progressed. Our climate was also characterized in part by relational identity. I made sure to emphasize that in the end, Anna and I are friends outside of this organization and that relationship label is something we should return to in order to keep us more productive. In order to de-escalate the conflict, I had to prioritize the relationship over my own needs to get us to work towards separating the person from the issue.

The conflict began because I made a direct bid for power when I reached a breaking point of frustration over WOWW’s leadership. I was hoping that Anna would endorse my bid based on legitimacy of knowledge and expertise, so I tried to send a message that was stern but also included language that helped me to appear like a knowledgeable leader. Her response was another direct bid for power; Anna reaffirmed that she is the president of the organization thus relying on social categorization in which her power is inherent to the fact that she has the title of president without any formal verification of said power. A better idea for myself would have been to make more of an indirect bid for power as to not appear as confrontational. In doing so, I could have avoided disrupting the group while also getting my point across. I would have been able to exert relational control instead of enacting an imbalance of power which escalated the conflict. The power did evolve and go more in this direction as I realized that Anna and I were on the escalator of destructive conflict. At times, making a virtual direct bid for power was effective because it did not require as much effort but still allowed me to be clear. A specific example is when I promised Anna that if we could plan ahead more for events, I would be the first to volunteer to help out. By saying so, I provided an incentive for Anna do to what I wanted while also acknowledging what she wanted: more participation from the group. It allowed me to feel like I had a fair amount of control over the situation without being forceful, and Anna saw that I was validating her thoughts regarding the conflict, so it helped us to reach a wise outcome.

Getting To Yes: What Do I Do if the People Are the Problem?

In my conflict, the people involved were a large part of the “problem.” Anna’s leadership style was one that clashed with mine dramatically. I value a leader who prioritizes efficiency, organization, and a strong team dynamic. From a few weeks of interacting with her, I saw behaviors that seemed to be more along the lines of a self-serving bias. Her idea of efficiency was to cut people off mid-sentence to rush through topics in meetings, which in turn harmed the team dynamic. My first approach to addressing this issue was ineffective. In an attempt to make a bid for power by expressing my experience as a successful leader, I ended up making a threat to Anna’s face as the elected leader of WOWW. Her defensive response showed me that I had approached the interaction poorly.

As expressed in Getting To Yes, and something I did keep in mind, it was important for Anna and I to maintain our relationship. The first piece of advice in the book is to “build a working relationship independent of agreement or disagreement” (Fisher and Ury, 2011). Anna and I had to return to a place where we could work productively through conflict so that we would be able to move forward in our professional relationship. When we spoke on the phone, I worked to use my tone of voice and direction of the conversation to separate the facts from the emotions. Fisher and Ury call this disentangling the substantive from the relationship issues and note it as a crucial part of strengthening the working relationship (2011).

The second major theme from the chapter that was useful in my conflict is to negotiate the relationship. After separating the substantive from the relationship elements, I worked to try to make requests for specific and concrete changes without passing personal judgement. The first few times Anna would continue to express why a certain request made her feel attacked, but by repeatedly redirecting the dialogue back to substantive issues and reinforcing that the relationship issues were not the problem, we were able to have a productive conversation.

Summary

As much as I would like to attribute the success of the conflict to my budding communication studies expertise, I cannot take all the credit. Anna must have been willing to resolve the conflict as well, otherwise it could have been never-ending. History played a key role in this conflict’s development and resolution. The fact that multiple instances of a similar issue occurred without me addressing it allowed frustration to pile up in my head and thus make me even more upset than I would have been if this were an isolated incident. Our history was also important because Anna and I were able to rely on the fact that we were friends outside of WOWW to refocus us on being kind to each other and tough on the issue.

In the future, I would not want to use impulse to respond to a conflict. Although I was inconvenienced and felt entitled to my feelings, voicing them via group message was not the most constructive tactic in that moment. My first recommendation for the future would be to wait to act until after the immediate feelings subside. What one says while overcome with emotions is typically not the most productive. Second, this is a conflict that should have been handled entirely face-to-face. It was alleviated by a phone call, but even with that form of synchronous communication it was still challenging. I should have structured the conflict for a different day, with a BATNA in mind, and without trying to create an ineffective strategy. Third, it would have been a much less dramatic encounter if WOWW as a group had set expectations for each other and the group more concretely at the beginning of the semester. I cannot be entirely sure of how Anna felt after the conflict, but I did ask her multiple times “how do you feel about this?”, “does this work for you?” and “how does that sound?” not only to demonstrate my level of interest in her point of view, but to coax productive feedback out of her.

At the end of the negotiation, I can say I am completely satisfied with our agreement, and it seemed like Anna was too. Even though it was challenging in the beginning of the interaction, I do feel like we converged on a wise outcome that best supports both of our goals and the goal of our shared organization. At the time, I felt like having spoken for about an hour was exhausting, but it was actually quite efficient. It is commendable that we were able to start and end a conflict all in the same evening. Finally, we did not damage the relationship. We were able to speak about the implications of this conflict on our relationship and in turn it helped us to work more productively. Overall, I felt like the dialogue worked out successfully. This conflict took place about three months ago, but sometimes there are still latent feelings of this conflict in our group. It is not enough for another full-scale intervention, but it can be concerning. The next task is to figure out how to maintain the agreed upon conditions of a conflict negotiation weeks and months after it has been resolved.