University of Chicago's STI/HIV Intervention Network ( SHINE ) held its third annual conference focusing on prevention and reduction of HIV and sexually transmitted infections. The daylong event, titled "Building Bold, Innovative Partnerships to Prevent and Reduce STIs/HIV Among Youth," took place Friday, Nov. 8 at Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave.
Alida Bouris, co-principal investigator for SHINE, said the conference was designed in line with the program's focus on developing interdisciplinary approaches to address STIs and HIV.
"It's not just a biological disease. It's a social condition that requires all of us to come together and figure out how we can change the conditions that make some young people more vulnerable to HIV, often for factors far beyond their control," said Bouris, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration. "We're never truly going to change conditions unless we have everybody sitting at the table and everyone's voice weighed equally."
Conference panels examined issues such as mental health, community violence, coordinating outreach through use of social media and research-based intervention methods.
Among the several panelists were Congressman Danny Davis, Fox Chicago News anchor Robin Robinson, Project NIA director Mariame Kaba and numerous other researchers, community leaders and health care practitioners.
Dexter Voisin, a professor at University of Chicago and principal investigator for SHINE, said that continuing to build community partnerships will be key to moving the discussion forward.
"What's being developed in academia isn't always getting out into the community. So the communities are making their own best efforts but it's not always informed by research and best practices," he said. "We're trying to bridge the academic and community branches."
In a keynote address, HIV/AIDS expert researcher Judy Auerbach discussed "Social Drivers of STI/HIV Infections Among Youth." Auerbach's presentation highlighted how factors such as race, poverty, homophobia and bullying interrelate; ultimately affecting the risk, prevention and transmission of STIs and HIV for young people.
"In the end, this is all about social change, which is scary for most people, particularly those in power or who benefit from how things are currently structured," said Auerbach, adjunct professor at University of California, San Francisco. "That social change includes the research establishment."
She also stressed that, in many ways, research affirms and can add legitimacy to the experiences and observations of people who work with affected populations.
"I would hope that researchers here at the university and other places that have the tools and money to get studies funded... work in concert with people in the community who understand what the need is, where the people are and have the venues where the programs take place," Auerbach said.
Following the conference, SHINE may coordinate follow-up meetings with local attendees, further develop youth-focused outreach and programming, and examine ways researchers can engage with youth advocacy efforts, according to Bouris.
"There has to be a mutual exchange," she said, adding that there's truth to some criticisms of researchers being detached from issues on the ground. "These are real people in real communities struggling with real issues... and one of the things SHINE wants to do is develop meaningful partnerships so that we can truly support the communities we work with."
Conference attendees were also treated to performances by the South Shore Drill Team and spoken word artist Tim'm West, who also served as a panelist stemming from his work as director of youth programs at Center on Halsted.
For more information on University of Chicago's SHINE program, visit ssascholars.uchicago.edu/shine .
Photo caption: (Left to right) SHINE principal investigator Dexter Voisin, Gary Comer Youth Center Executive Director Greg Mooney, keynote speaker Judy Auerbach, SHINE co-principal investigator Alida Bouris and University of Chicago Assistant Professor John Schneider. Photo by Derrick Clifton