You may see it as a homosexual disease, an airborne disease, a disease that takes away peoples’ rights and confidentiality. You may see it as a disease gotten through blood transfusion, through drug abuse, through hand shaking. You probably think that you, personally, will never “catch it.” These are only a few of the one-dimensional stereotypes that the average person has of HIV and AIDS.
Although HIV and AIDS can and does effect gay men and women, as well as drug addicts who share needles, these two stereotypes do not wholly characterize the pool of victims. HIV and AIDS can happen to anyone through unsafe sex, and even children can be born with it when a mother passes the disease through her body into her unborn child.
Unfortunately, Colgate does not have a plethora of groups that are associated with the education of HIV and AIDS. However, a new group is coming to the forefront: AIDS Task Force. The new group aims to eradicate superficial views about AIDS and helps to promote prevention methods and raise awareness. A group of students in Professor Meika Loe’s Women, Health, and Medicine class volunteer at the AIDS Community Resource Center in Utica.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is caused by HIV (Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus) and is a worldwide epidemic. Millions of new cases are being reported annually. According to the UNAIDS (a United Nations group that studies this rapidly proliferating disease) there are an estimated 36.1 million people who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and every year approximately 3 million of these victims die; in the year 2003 alone there were 5 million new diagnoses made by doctors (and this figure applies only to the people who got tested.) There is a real need to raise awareness about this physically and socially debilitating disease and to combat the misleading, superficial views has become crucial.
There are many ways to prevent the spread of AIDS, including but not limited to: educating people about the disease, donating time and money to AIDS organizations, getting tested at a local clinic, supporting and being a friend to someone who has been diagnosed with AIDS, and most importantly, practicing safer sex methods. December 1st is World’s AIDS Day, a day that is commemorated around the globe in order to remind everyone that AIDS is a universal conflict and that raising awareness is a necessity in order to stop its rampant growth. Colgate’s AIDS Task Force will be holding a bake sale and raffle at the COOP Monday through Wednesday and will offer information to interested students.
The AIDs Task Force is a group affiliated with COVE. If it does not sound familiar, don’t worry; this group has not yet developed a full presence on campus due to its new status, but many have no doubt that it will soon be making a major impact at Colgate by promoting AIDS awareness. For more information on how to join this wonderful volunteer group, interested students should contact COVE Director Marnie Terhune.
Professor Low has also initiated her students’ interest in AIDS awareness. She believes in the integration of theory and practice in her sociology classes, specifically Women, Health, and Medicine, so she allows her students a choice of six different organizations in which to participate. Four of these students, senior Patty Pavlinac, senior Rebecca Sandler, junior Abbie Bloom, and junior Vanessa Foreman, decided to volunteer once a week for five hours at ACR in Utica. Pavlinac said that she selected to volunteer at ACR because she had traveled to South Africa with Associate Professor of Political Science Anne Pitcher last year and discovered a passion for public service. At ACR, the students receive confidentiality training since that, in particular, is a “huge, HUGE issue” according to Pavlinac. There they are educated about this vicious epidemic and they are able to collaborate with fellow AIDS activists Mamie Smith and Eddie Dejesus, who specifically travel to high risk areas and hand out supplies in order to promote safer sex methods and hygiene, including the distribution of condoms to prostitutes. At first Pavlinac was afraid that the people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS at ACR would think that the students were judging them, but now she feels very connected to them, saying that she feels as if her eyes were opened to the vulnerabilities of HIV/AIDS, something which is not easy to discover in the Colgate University bubble.
Something that has interested Pavlinac have been the biases and stigmas surrounding HIV and AIDS, such as it being considered a “gay man’s disease” or a “prostitute’s disease.” AIDS/HIV correlates with issues of abuse and poverty which is why many economically disadvantaged females are at high risk. The large immigrant population in particular has many barriers to health care; Russian doctors, for example, think it is wrong talk about sex with patients so the importance of safe sex is never discussed. There are also many issues surrounding the limited knowledge of both patients and doctors. ACR promotes awareness of HIV and AIDs throughout various communities and makes certain to eradicate all stereotypical and superficial views that are often related. Pavlinac has had such a great experience volunteering at ACR that she plans on continuing and increasing her services there next semester. She stated that : “HIV/AIDS is an illness that is embedded within a social, economic, and political context that is often not recognized. By being in ACR, I am a part of a wonderful community organization that has inspired my friends and I to work toward alleviating the issues and stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS in order to raise awareness.”