December 1, 2014

Events Educate Students About Impact of AIDS

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In an effort to increase awareness for acquired immune deficiency syndrome and commemorate national AIDS Awareness Week, various Cornell organizations are hosting a series of events this week to educate students about the disease.

This year marks the third annual Cornell AIDS Awareness Week, according Maddie Gerrick ’17, a coordinator for the event. She added that the goal for the week is to reduce the stigma associated with being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

“I hope that through AIDS Awareness Week we can educate the campus and reduce the prevalence of the stigma and poz-phobic attitudes on campus,” Gerrick said.

Other coordinators of the week-long event include Juliana Batista ’16, executive vice president of the Student Assembly, and Lex Brown ’15, an HIV-positive student, according to Gerrick.

“As an HIV-positive student and experiencing first hand the stigma and poz-phobia on campus, I felt that something should be done,” Brown said.

During the planning process, Brown said he organized speakers by communicating with Haven: The LGBTQ Student Union and GlobeMed, a global health organization on campus that aims to improve the health of individuals in impoverished countries.

“I put most of my effort in trying to bring HIV and AIDS awareness back to campus, to show that global includes the United States, not just everywhere else,” Brown said.

The week kicked off with a speaker from the organization the Southern Tier AIDS Program speaking about his own experience living with HIV. After his speech, Noah Cooper, a member of STAP, discussed the laws, rights and regulations of people living with HIV or AIDS.

“It is important to recognize that this is difficult. It is here and its very real,” Cooper said. “Our whole goal is to work with college students to talk about HIV and AIDS and let people know that it does exist and that it does impact the community.”

During the event, Brown also spoke about his diagnosis and personal experiences as an HIV-positive individual.

“I chose that it would best for me to come out, so that everyone else knows that its not just elsewhere, its here,” Brown said. “I hope [AIDS awareness week] gets others to want to educate themselves more [on the matter].”

Brown specifically discussed stigmas on campus that he encountered.  He recalls being called names — including “untouchable [and] undateable” — and how others have frequently made false assumptions about the disease.

“I have to educate others,” Brown said.  “I decided I wanted to fight for the rights of those who are HIV-positive.”

According to Gerrick, there will be a talk on Tuesday entitled, “How Sex Affects You.” Dr. Douglas MacQueen, an infectious disease specialist at Cayuga Medical Center, will discuss HIV and AIDS, their initial stages and different forms of treatment.

Gerrick added that she hopes that students learn that HIV and AIDS are prevalent, not only on a global scale, but also in the Cornell community.

“Although many students are fine with supporting HIV/AIDS outside of the US, many remain ignorant to its prevalence on campus,” Gerrick said. “HIV and AIDS Awareness is so important, and I felt it especially relevant to Cornell, for as Lex said, a stigma exists.”

Organizations sponsoring the event include the Student Assembly, the Willard Straight Hall Student Union Board, Haven, the GlobeMed and the Cornell Health International.