Oberlin Fights HIV/AIDS with Education
Names echoed across Wilder Bowl Friday, Nov. 30, each in remembrance of an AIDS victim. This was only one event that ushered in World AIDS Day on December 1, the commemoration of which has been recognized at Oberlin for approximately ten years.
Double-degree junior Chris-tina James, the HIV/AIDS education and prevention coordinator for The Center for Leadership in Health Promotion, said of World AIDS Day, “It’s a day established to bring awareness.” She also said that the “names reading is one of the most traditional things that we do.”
Among the events marking World AIDS Day on campus were a screening of part one of Kevin’s Room and the posting of red fliers that listed HIV facts. James said, “The Center for Leadership in Health [CHIP] publicizes all these events. We sponsored the names reading and the chalking of the safer sex continuum… [The chalking] happened in front of Stevie and the Con. We also sponsored the making of the AIDS ribbons.”
Sponsored by CHIP HIV Peer Testers, The Multicultural Resource Center and The Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People, all events occurred between November 29 and December 4. “Overall, it was a successful event on campus. We tried to make it so that anywhere on campus, you’d see something about World AIDS Day,” James said.
HIV testing, which happened on December 2 at the Third World and Afrikan Heritage program houses, was another World AIDS Day activity. College senior and co-coordinator of HIV testing Olivia Winter said that this particular event is important because “in a lot of places, [the test results are] not anonymous. If you go to the doctor’s office, they have your name.”
At Oberlin, however, Winter said testing is private. “In being confidential, someone can hold information to themselves. And if you test positive, no one has to know. Insurance companies don’t have to know; employers don’t have to know.”
Winter also said, “Starting healthy habits young is crucial. Testing reinforces healthy behaviors that students are learning elsewhere, whether it is at the SIC…or even if it’s through students talking with each other about condoms and dental dams.”
The reading of names was influential to many on campus as well. “The names reading is very powerful and serves to demonstrate the magnitude of the virus and how many people are affected by it,” said James. She stated that the goal was to have students be walking into Wilder while some of the 12-14 CLHP volunteers were reading. Then, when students exited the building, they would hear the list still being read.
Sponsors utilized “intense statistics” to bring AIDS to the forefront of people’s minds. “I think it’s good to spread awareness and constantly remind people how it affects them. For example, we made the red, eye-catching, fact sheets,” James said.
Both Winter and James believe that World AIDS Day is beneficial in a number of ways. James said that along with achieving solidarity and community involvement, World AIDS Day sheds extra light on a critical subject: “A lot of people take the issue of HIV/AIDS for granted and think that it can’t be applied to them, especially on a liberal campus like Oberlin. They already think that they’re educated.”
Winter said, “I think the premise is two things. First, it acknowledges the number of people who have died, and the vast number of people infected. It’s also about prevention. It’s a ‘fear’ topic. People are reminded that they’re not immune. It’s important to have a day dedicated to remembering.”
The World Health Organization first declared World AIDs Day in 1988. “World AIDS Day provides governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website.
James said that World AIDS Day’s recognition in Oberlin was, in part, to remind people of the impactit has “across cultures, races, sexual orientations and how it can affect anybody.”
Next year, “it will be a bit bigger than this year,” James said of the day’s observance. “Every year it depends on what else the office is doing. This year, it was relatively small. Next year, written into the grant, is the showing of the AIDS memorial quilt.”
James said, “The AIDS memorial quilt is something that friends and family members commemorate” to those who were lost to HIV/AIDS. They are hoping to acquire up to 50 patches next year and fill Philips gym with them.
Other events that will take place next World AIDS Day include bringing in a folk singer, presenting a visual arts exhibit and organizing a quilt-making mini-workshop, according to James.