Annual AIDS Symposium Raises Awareness
Assistant Professor of Comparative American Studies Meredith Raimondo opened the 2006 HIV/AIDS Symposium on Tuesday with her talk “AIDS, Orphans and American Power.” The first in a week-long series of lectures and discussions exploring and raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Raimondo’s talk examined the representation of women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in the photojournalism of George W. Bush’s 2003 trip to Africa.
According to a UN report, in 2005, 15.2 million children lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS. Eight out of ten of these children were from Africa.
“It is the distance between the representation of [these African children orphaned by HIV/AIDS] and their material needs that concerns me,” explained Raimondo.
Raimondo discussed the ways in which these images have blurred the rhetoric of human rights advocacy and militarization, comparing the discourse on HIV/AIDS to the discourse on the War on Terror. In many instances where Bush is juxtaposed with African women and children, the images exploit the “colonial fantasy of encounter,” said Raimondo, by communicating an imperialist mode of citizenship in which Bush is depicted as a paternal figure that has come to rescue orphaned children.
“Solving global problems through family formation is grounded in colonialism,” she argued.
More recently, this “imperial rescue narrative” has made headlines in media coverage of celebrity adoptions of African babies, particularly those of Madonna and Angelina Jolie. Raimondo discussed how images portraying these particular narratives have contributed to U.S. constructions of the AIDS pandemic. Raimondo suggested that the emphasis on these women as maternal figures has also been linked to the notions of “dangerous feminine consumption” and “feminized white women ‘shopping’ for accessories.”
Also speaking at the Symposium were Stephen Fallon of Skills4, Inc.; Karen Karhulik, associate dean of the college at Brown University; Gary Richardson of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland and Kim Dennis of the Ministry of Hope.
The 2006 Symposium was sponsored by The Center for Leadership in Health Promotion at Oberlin College with support from a grant from The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation. Frascino, OC ’74, is a member of the Board of Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee.
World AIDS Day, the final day of this year’s Symposium, is observed nationally on Dec. 1. The concept of World AIDS Day originated in 1988 at the World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programs for AIDS prevention. It is designed to raise awareness, raise money to find a cure and end prejudice against the illness.
While one of the goals of this year’s Symposium was to specifically explore the intersection of gender violence and HIV/AIDS, Lori K. Flood, director of the CLHP and assistant dean of students, explained that the overall goal was to simply raise awareness about the issue as both a global and local problem.
“We really want students to embrace and learn about this issue,” said Flood. “Our office has the responsibility of opening the door…and keeping conversation going.”
Also, as part of the Symposium, the Student Global AIDS Campaign tabled throughout the week to raise awareness about the health workers crisis and universal treatment. Members of Oberlin’s new social theater troupe Typecast handed out safer sex information and condoms.
“The bottom line is that it’s a huge issue,” Flood concluded. “HIV/AIDS is a reality even on Oberlin College’s campus.”