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Professor wins fellowship to support AIDS research

A faculty member in the Division of Human Development has been chosen for a prestigious fellowship with the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California at San Francisco.

Assistant Professor Leo Wilton will spend part of the next three summers at the center as experts there help him lay the foundation for a multimillion dollar research grant proposal. His central goal is to address the disproportionate HIV/AIDS infection rate among people of color.

He’ll begin with seminars in advanced qualitative and quantitative methods and modules tailored to his interests.

The center will also provide $25,000 this year for a pilot study to test his research model.

Wilton will study body image and how it interfaces with HIV risk behaviors among black gay men. Issues he’ll consider include race stress, gay stress and internalized homophobia.

“I saw a lack of focus in this area,” he said. “People are just beginning to look at the cultural factors.”

Forty-six percent of black gay men are HIV-positive, Wilton said. “In terms of the nation, we’re in a crisis,” he added.

In the second and third years of the fellowship, Wilton will present his findings and work on a National Institutes of Health grant application.

Wilton said the center, which annually chooses three or four researchers nationwide for the fellowships, sets trends for the country when it comes to the way AIDS is seen by social scientists. Past fellows are now considered top-tier experts in their fields, he noted.

The center’s position paper spoke to Wilton, he said. Officials there are looking for researchers familiar with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and comfortable working with people in it.

Wilton, 36, has worked with GLBT issues for much of his career, including a postdoctoral fellowship with the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training at New York University.

He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in counseling psychology from NYU and a bachelor’s from Binghamton University.

Wilton expects to finish a second master’s in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University at Albany this year.

Wilton’s ongoing work, related to individual behavior but also to outside factors such as poverty and access to health care, has been funded by the New York City Health Department. That research, done in collaboration with Brooklyn-based People of Color in Crisis, takes him to the city most Mondays.

“What I’m calling for is a paradigm shift that also focuses on the cultural factors,” he said. “It’s easy to get into the self-blame thing.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08