Initially christened Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, AIDS has garnered a fair share of stigma for its victims since it was first reported in 1981 at a Los Angeles clinic.
As research has advanced and increasingly nuanced awareness efforts have changed minds, the myths surrounding the disease have eroded.
Today marks the culmination of World AIDS Week on campus, a six-day run of student activists’ efforts to continue that trend.
While AIDS victims are no longer barred from drinking fountains, and presidents no longer call it the “gay cancer,” as Ronald Reagan once did, many delusions about the disease’s origins and treatments still exist.
The past week was a good step away from that, said LSA senior Sunil Joy, the week’s coordinator.
World AIDS Week is a relatively new addition to the world of campus activism. Similar events were first held on campus in 1991 after Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive – a moment that catapulted the disease into the public consciousness on an unprecedented scale.
But campus momentum dissipated until University Health Services employee Traci Jarrett decided to resuscitate it last year. She convinced six student groups to coordinate awareness efforts during the week before Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day.
This year, the number of groups has swelled to nearly 20.
When Jarrett left UHS to go to graduate school, Joy stepped in to take her place.
Over the course of the week, Joy oversaw the coordination of rallies, film screenings, fundraisers and lectures with titles like “Out of Control: AIDS in Black America” and “Barebacking in the Gay Male Community.”
One of the most enlightening moments occurred at Tuesday’s “Abstinence vs. Safe Sex” panel discussion in the Wolverine Room of the Union, Joy said.
Equipped with a hodgepodge of contraceptives from the Safe Sex Store on South University Ave., Leon Golson, director of prevention programs at the HIV/AIDS Resource Center, pantomimed an array of preventive techniques.
At one point, he showed the audience how to prevent condoms from breaking by clearing the air bubble from the tip.
“He was going crazy showing everyone,” Joy said. “But it was all very helpful – I learned something new.”
On Wednesday night, the African Students Association held a charity bar night at Club Oz on Fifth Avenue that raised more than $800 for a nonprofit group that works to fight AIDS in Zambia and Mozambique.
The event brought together a diverse set of co-sponsors, including the Arab Student Association and the Caribbean People Association.
The week’s activities united groups that don’t often work together.
For the only time all year, Circle K, Planned Parenthood and the Office of LGBT Affairs contributed to a single cause.
“It’s just amazing that we could all come together,” Joy shouted over Oz’s pulsing dance mix. “The only thing that connects us is this epidemic.”
The week’s central event will take place tonight at 7 in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union with an exhibit of photographs and writings by HIV-positive area residents. The event is sponsored by the HIV/AIDS Resource Center, a nonprofit group that has worked with HIV-positive people in Washtenaw Country since 1986.
Tomorrow night, the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council will co-sponsor a fundraiser at Good Time Charley’s to support an AIDS service organization in the Caribbean.