Though the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence, K. Bradford, coordinator in the Office of LGBTQ Culture and Community, said there is still a great deal that people don’t know about the disease.
LGBTQ, a group that is part of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, will observe World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to stress the importance of awareness and testing among the Columbia community, but it will do so in a much more personal way this year.
Bradford said that although it is important to have symbolic moments, such as World AIDS Day, society has a push-pull relationship with AIDS awareness because of the time frame.
“In terms of students, days like World AIDS Day really matter, especially from the perspective of this office as we create cultural programming in the realm of student life,” Bradford said.
Bradford said the event will take a much more personal approach than in past years, when LGBTQ would feature essay smashes and different performers and speakers.
“We’re doing more of a personal angle, experiencing people’s lives more directly impacted by HIV/AIDS and how people live, survive and find hope,” Bradford said. “We’re hoping that will open a good dialogue.”
For the event, LGBTQ is welcoming speaker David Robertson, who was infected with HIV more than two years ago and has since told his story to many Chicagoans. Because Robertson will host an open discussion about HIV immediately following his speech, his presentation will be shorter than usual.
Iman Crutcher, a graduate student who works in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said bringing Robertson to campus would match this year’s theme of making the event more personal.
“I wanted to do something different besides a lot of traditional things, to have entertainment that is very relevant to the World AIDS Day and someone who is actually dealing with it,” Crutcher said.
Bradford said learning about AIDS awareness outside of the classroom is especially important because students are digesting real issues in a hands-on, direct way.
“It’s really important on the campus because it is an issue that affects people of all sexualities, genders and races,”
Bradford said the programming for World AIDS Day is usually about confronting what is scary about the disease and to educate each other, but it is also a celebration of how communities have survived and grown through the term of the disease.
“It’s honoring people who have died from the disease and it’s also celebrating our communities,” Bradford said.
Charlie Rice-Minoso, a junior public relations major and chair of the Social Event Planning Committee of Common Ground, a student-run organization on campus intended to represent the LGBTQ community, said discussion about AIDS tends to get swept under the rug by society because it is not a fun or easy thing to talk about.
“It’s not the most pleasant topic and it’s not something that affects just one group of people in just a certain part of the city,” Rice-Minoso said. “It’s an epidemic.”
Rice-Minoso said AIDS awareness is especially important at a place like Columbia—an urban college campus in a city of more than 2.8 million people.
Rice-Minoso said college students seldom think things through, particularly as they relate to the party scene. This leaves topics such as AIDS as an afterthought.
“Being fully aware of [AIDS] is one of those vital life lessons that shouldn’t be pushed aside for when you might have time,” Rice-Minoso said.
Rice-Minoso said that students should be educated about HIV/AIDS in order to make themselves aware of the risk factors that could lead to contracting the virus.
“Knowledge against something such as this is really going to set society free,” Rice-Minoso said.
Erica Quinn, sophomore public relations major and communications officer of Common Ground, said it is very important to Common Ground that students are aware of the resources Columbia has on campus, and they should not be afraid to use those resources.
“We just want to educate and reach out to our community,” Quinn said.
The World AIDS Day event hosted by LGBTQ will be held in the Quincy Wong Center for Artistic Expression on Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., located in the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave.