The University of Rhode Island’s Lecturer Sara Murphy, Ph.D. is looking to engage students in the history and culture of HIV/AIDS. There are currently two sections of the class, the honors topics class HPR 310: AIDS in America and the thanatology special topics class THN 429: AIDS in US.

“I designed this course because students asked me to and I did it over a break because they seemed so impassioned by it,”  Murphy said. “It was the most transformative course I had taught in 10 years.”

The class was started in the Spring 2016 semester and has since been brought back due to high student interest. The class is designed to teach students the history of HIV/AIDS from the inception to the present day as well as talk about the privilege and inequality around the disease, critical thinking, media literacy, empowerment and civic engagement. The class draws upon a wide variety of materials, everything from CDC documents and government briefs to literature, drama and poetry to representations in popular culture students lived experiences.

Many students in the class enjoy the wide scope that the class has. Sophomore nursing major Moises Velasquez described his experience as the, “class gives [HIV/AIDS] a much stronger human aspect and that you can relate to what’s going on.”

Other students, like junior nursing major Katherine Veilleux, said, “I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS. I knew a lot about the pathophysiology but I didn’t know much about the people’s experiences going through it.”

Murphy is not shy to talk about taboo topics and suggests that this class shows students have a greater interest in these kinds of classes. The two section of her HIV/AIDS classes filled within the first couple of hours of being opened.

“I try to teach courses on taboo topics whenever possible and topics that have a great deal of relevance and significance beyond the walls of the classroom for student learning,” Murphy said. “[The classes filling] tells me that both our nursing students and our general population are really hungry for courses on topics that are still considered taboo.”

Students also have to complete a civic engagement project over the course of the semester. Students get into self-formed teams and have to use the information from the class to engage the community. Some past projects have been going into local schools health classes to teach students prevention methods and organizing and marketing free HIV tests on campus. The last free HIV test day was so successful that they ran out of tests within the first hour.

“I have always sympathized with people but I never realized just how hard it was for those that were diagnosed with AIDS, especially in the 80s, to get to where they are now,” Veilleux said. “It was very interesting and eye opening. It’s not just science, we read a lot of literature. It’s a well rounded class with great discussions.”