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May 2015

Kenya Crawford wears many hats; HIV/AIDS activist and family relationships researcher are just two of them.

Supported by the College of Health and Human Development (HHD), the Human Development and Family Studies senior has been using her passions and experiences to make a difference on campus and overseas.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in HHD studying a wide array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Crawford, who found a home in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

“When I originally enrolled at Penn State I had an interest in the impact of family relationships on mental health,” Crawford said. “After completing an introductory course in HDFS I fell in love with the major. Not only did I enjoy the opportunity to study a topic of interest but I was also pleased with the opportunity of completing either a research project or internship as a culminating senior project.”

Crawford, who was elected 2014 Penn State Homecoming Queen, traveled to the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa last summer to represent the Penn State Chapter of the Keep a Child Alive program, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing treatment and support services to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.

“While abroad I created and implemented interventions regarding sexuality, gender roles, race, healthy interpersonal romantic relationships and social equity,” she said. “In addition, I collaborated with the HIV/AIDS unit and their LGBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer) director in hopes to enhance the gender and women studies minor.”

Specifically, Crawford helped create syllabi focusing on sexuality and safer sex practices in order to decrease the rates of HIV/AIDS.

Crawford also proposed something like the Penn State Ally House, which is a special living option that provides a safe and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students on campus, to the residential services at the University of Western Cape, she said

“Currently, I serve as the resident assistant of Penn State’s Ally House and used this experience to shape my proposal for the University of the Western Cape,” Crawford said.

There are a variety of different languages in South Africa, Crawford said, so to prepare she studied Afrikaans – one of the main official languages – beforehand. She was concerned that the sensitive subject matter of safe sex and LGBTQ issues would be lost in translation.

“I introduced some terminology that might be more appropriate to use within the LGBTQ community,” Crawford said.

Through the use of social media and videos, she was able to enhance that communication.

“It was amazing to see how we were able to communicate,” Crawford said. “In that culture these are taboo subjects. I was happy to actually contribute to that conversation.”

Crawford has used her work in Cape Town to help to shape interventions and programs hosted by the Penn State Chapter of Keep a Child Alive. Through this experience she has also been awarded the Spirit of Internalization Award by the Global Connections Program.

Minoring in psychology and sexuality/gender studies, Crawford was also a member of the Women’s Leadership Initiative class in 2013-14, is current president of Keep A Child Alive at Penn State and held the position of vice president of the Penn State chapter of UNICEF from 2012 to 2013.

Additionally, she is a member of the College of Health and Human Development’s Honor Society and Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society. She has made Penn State’s dean’s list from 2011 to 2015 and is a Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program scholar.

“Outside of my interest in HIV/AIDS activism I have made substantial progress on my research conducted in my family relationships project,” Crawford said.

Crawford presented research at the Society for Child and Child Development in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Undergraduate Research Exhibition at Penn State, and the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology and recently placed 1st place at the Health and Human Development Research Poster Competition.

Following graduation, Crawford plans to attend Columbia University to receive a dual Masters of Arts and Education degree in psychological counseling. While at Columbia Crawford plans to research LGBT romantic relationships and the intersectionality between sexuality, gender, and race.

After graduating in 2017, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. graduate program in counseling psychology, and work towards obtaining her license as a psychologist, then ultimately work for the United Nations enacting policies to promote equity regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation

In addition to HDFS, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Kinesiology, Nutritional Sciences, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management.