Exploring Community History

Inspired by the integrative learning course HIV and AIDS in the Lehigh Valley, Victoria Retterholt ’22 is conducting summer research in public health to more closely examine how that pandemic affected local Hispanic and Latino populations.

By: Meghan Kita  Wednesday, July 22, 2020 03:40 PM

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Victoria Retterholt ’22

This spring, Victoria Retterholt ’22 took HIV and AIDS in the Lehigh Valley, an integrative learning course taught by Teaching and Learning Librarian Rachel Hamelers. While much of the coursework focused on the LGBTQ population, the class also learned that local Hispanic and Latino residents were disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS.

Retterholt, a neuroscience major with minors in Spanish and Latin American & Caribbean studies and a Dana Scholar, was interested in learning more about that. She applied for and received a public health summer research grant. Hamelers, Retterholt’s advisor, suggested she start by digging deeper into the group Latino AIDS Outreach, which is mentioned in passing in The Morning Call archives used as source material for the class. Retterholt is also looking for primary literature concerning health outcomes for Hispanic and Latino individuals affected by HIV and AIDS on a nationwide scale, as well as local and state health bureau data from the 1990s to present day.

She found some names that appeared in articles in conjunction with Latino AIDS Outreach and contacted some of those people using LinkedIn. One woman, the former executive director of Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley and board member of Latinos for Healthy Communities, gave Retterholt leads for several other individuals involved in the HIV/AIDS response in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Her passion project within that was working on HIV and AIDS and figuring out prevention education techniques specifically targeted toward the Latino community,” Retterholt says. For example, the group would throw baby showers for moms-to-be that included an educational component for guests. The purpose was to raise awareness that, at the time, the most common mode of transmission within the local Hispanic and Latino communities involved a man contracting HIV from intravenous drug use and then sexually transmitting the virus to his partner.

“It was more difficult to receive funding for educational programs that talked about clean needle usage or drug prevention or education,” Retterholt says—most programs focused on the most common mode of transmission nationally, which was men having sex with other men.

Retterholt plans to continue her research into the fall in order to pursue all the leads she now has to gather more information about Latino AIDS Outreach and other contemporaneous organizations that worked in the Lehigh Valley’s Hispanic and Latino communities. Looking ahead, after graduation, she’s considering dual-degree physician assistant and master’s of public health programs.

“[This experience] definitely has shaped my academic interests,” she says. “I wish I had discovered my interest in public health earlier; I would have loved to study it more in depth by minoring in it.”