In honor of World AIDS Day, the National Council for Negro Women, the Black Student Union and Creatives of Color presented the HIV Monologues Sunday night to teach students and faculty about the disease that affects millions of people around the world. The Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and the University of Michigan Museum of Art co-sponsored the event, which was held at the Helmut Stern Auditorium.
Using spoken-word poetry, skits, music and monologues, the monologue performers created a space to destigmatize those afflicted with the disease and educate the audience about the realities of HIV/AIDS.
The night began with a moment of silence to remember the millions lost from HIV/AIDS, followed by a question posed to the audience: Why should you care? A presentation highlighted the current reality of HIV/AIDS in the United States, which has particularly impacted the African-American community. In 2015, African Americans made up 44 percent of all new HIV diagnoses. The event then moved into the speaker section of the night.
The first speaker was Nesha Haniff, an educator in the departments of women’s studies and Afroamerican and African studies. Haniff’s speech centered around low representation of women in the discussion of HIV/AIDS prevention.
“The methodologies developed for women to prevent them from having HIV and STI infections are not very well developed and they are very, very unfriendly,” Haniff said. “And so, as a result, women become more vulnerable to infections like STIs and HIV.”
Haniff explained how the only options for women to protect their own bodies are to use the female condom, which can be uncomfortable and very noticeable to the partner, or to use pre-exposure prophylaxis, a drug that is difficult to access.
“A lot of education breaks down in practice,” she said. “Be conscious of this problem, be educated about it, and advocate for the science that are relevant for women’s bodies … revolutionize and change the science so that we can develop safe and important features for the new medications that we will take.”
The night continued with various performances from students and faculty. Students in the Ambiance Dance Team performed a contemporary routine, followed by a spoken-word poem reading from LSA freshman Sydni Hill.
Elizabeth James, program associate of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, read aloud a poem about those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS. At the end of the poem, James brought to light the immense disparity between HIV/AIDS in white and Black women.
“The HIV infection among Black women is 20 times higher than for white women. But we remain as erased from this history as we have throughout our history,” she said.
Additionally, DAAS Chair Matthew Countryman, read a trio of poems his late father — who died of HIV/AIDS — wrote about living with the disease.
Presentations frequently involved audience interaction. At one point in the night, audience members were asked “What is risky?”, and each member was given a slip of paper with a different potential risk factor for HIV/AIDS, such as saliva or unprotected sex. The members read aloud whether they thought the factor on their slip of paper was a risk or not, and then the correct answers were revealed.
Audience members also formed groups to answer questions, such as how HIV can be prevented, and performed skits on stage reenacting a scenario during which one member speaks to their partner about HIV/AIDS testing. These activities were followed by educational presentations on these topics from the members of NCNW, the Black Student Union, and Creatives of Color.
The night concluded by discussing methods of how to destigmatize HIV/AIDS. The presentation included different ways to bring up speaking about your HIV/AIDS status, testing, being HIV/AIDS positive and different safe-sex options. HIV testing sites on the University’s campus include University Health Services and the Spectrum Center.
After the meeting commenced, LSA senior De’Sia Blackwell explained what inspired the event.
“African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV, and we think it is really important for them to know how to prevent it, how to treat it, and how to deal with having HIV,” she said.
Blackwell then gave her opinion on how HIV/AIDS is treated on campus.
“I think not a lot of people know a lot about HIV, and the small details that are really important,” she said. “I think that we do need more events on campus that will help bring awareness to HIV …The goal is to educate about prevention, educate about treatment and make people aware of how it feels to live with HIV.”