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Beyond "AIDS in the End Zone"

Posted December 15, 2015
Story by Rachel Bandman, Reprinted from InterCom
Photo: Dr. Karen Gavigan stands on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town. 

In July 2016, South African teen literacy book clubs will be given an opportunity to write, design and publish a graphic novel to teach other young adults in their area about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

School of Library and Information Science professors Dr. Kendra Albright and Dr. Karen Gavigan will team up with the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) to give teens this chance.

PRAESA, an independent research group affiliated with the University of Cape Town, reached out to Dr. Albright and Dr. Gavigan during their conference trip to Cape Town this past summer. The organization specifically is interested in conducting research that contributes to the development of education for the literacy of South African children.

In 2014, the two SLIS professors created a graphic novel, Aids in the End Zone, from their academic research on teen well-being in South Carolina. Dr. Gavigan has spent a majority of her life’s research working with graphic novels and experimenting with their story-telling ability.

“Graphic novels are a format, not a genre,” said Dr. Gavigan. “They encompass many genres.”

Working with a group of young men attending high school in a South Carolina juvenile justice facility, the professors used the graphic novel to advocate a “teens-educate-teens” teaching style. The story of Aids in the End Zone was written by the incarcerated teens.

Subsequently, the professors found that not only did South Carolina and North Carolina teenage students prefer Aids in the End Zone, but the teens also experienced greater gains in knowledge by reading the entertaining, fictional graphic novel than by reading materials distributed by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Then came a trip to South Africa, where Dr. Gavigan and Dr. Albright were invited to speak and present their research at an International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference in Cape Town. Through USC’s Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, the two received a Faculty Research Grant for $3,000 that helped pay for the trip to Cape Town. Dr. Albright also received funding from Libri: International Journal of Library and Information Services, working as Editor-in- Chief of Libri for a year.

The idea for a South African version of Aids in the End Zone emerged from the conference. The two professors and PRAESA are currently seeking funds for the return trip. The story will be created and told by PRAESA’s book clubs, just as the incarcerated youth in South Carolina had the opportunity to do, but it will be unique to the African culture.

“Kendra and I are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with the PRAESA staff and a graphic illustrator to create a graphic novel on HIV/AIDS prevention with South African teens,” said Dr. Gavigan. “This partnership will enable us to fulfill one of our project goals of conducting our research in Africa, the continent that has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world.”

Their initial research proved successful and secured interest from PRAESA. Now, secondary research, or what Dr. Karen Gavigan and Dr. Kendra Albright call their “Phase Four,” is expected to replicate the program’s success internationally and foster organizational relationships between two universities.

Rachel Bandman is a senior public relations major.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.