Emerson unites in fight against AIDS

Emerson’s activities included an art exhibit sponsored by Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone (EAGLE), a discussion, a candlelight vigil followed by a reception and a fundraiser comedy show at the day’s conclusion.,Red ribbons fluttered proudly on the lapels and bag-straps of Emerson students, faculty and guest speakers last Friday as the campus gathered together to raise awareness for World AIDS Day.

Emerson’s activities included an art exhibit sponsored by Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone (EAGLE), a discussion, a candlelight vigil followed by a reception and a fundraiser comedy show at the day’s conclusion.

July 2007 will mark the 25th anniversary of the official discovery of the disease, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) lists the 15-24 demographic as most at risk, making the issue particularly important to college students.

Marcela Sprague, a freshman organizational and political communication major, said she attended an art exhibit held at the Boston Public Library, which featured photos of orphans living with the disease.

Sprague said the exhibit opened her eyes to the large portion of individuals who contracted the illness from something other than unsafe sex.

SGA President Jamal Barone addressed a crowd of students at the candle light vigil.

“As we ignore it [AIDS], we are only allowing it to grow more,” Barone said. “[I hope] Emerson can be the microcosm about respect to one another.”

About 50 people attended a 90-minute discussion held in the Cabaret, sponsored by Zeta Phi Eta as part of its Vision of Voice series.

Joe Carleo, executive director of AIDS House Corporation, led the discussion with Chad Bates, staff associate for student life.

“It is important to remember that not all students entering Emerson have had equal access to sexual education or preventive health education,” Bates said in an interview.

Carleo has worked with many people who are living with the disease. He advocated talking about HIV/AIDS with peers and family.

“It made me want to do something helpful to make people aware both of the progress being made, as well as how much work there still is to be done,” said Ilana Plen, a writing for film and television major sophomore.

According to the MDPH, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts has increased every year since 2000. Fifty-two percent of males living with HIV/AIDS are white and 46 percent of males were exposed through homosexual sex.

As of December 2005, 39 percent of females living with the disease are black, according to the MDPH Web site. Thirty-one percent of all infected females were exposed through injection drug use and 32 percent through heterosexual sex.

Bates and Carleo said that new college students are sometimes more willing to take risks than they otherwise would be. Bates described the use of contraception as a measure of self-esteem.

“There are some people who are more concerned with making people like them rather than taking care of themselves,” Carleo said.

Shayra Lee Norat-Santiago, a junior theatre studies and TV/video double major, said that she had never been exposed to the severity of the AIDS epidemic.

“I am now, more than ever, convinced that the fight against AIDS is one worth fighting,” Norat-Santiago said. “We need to start at home, educating, in order to move overseas and help the rest of the world.”

Several dozen students attended the candlelight vigil held in front of the State House the same evening. Candles lined the stairs while selected guest speakers addressed the crowd.

Janis Andersen, interim dean of the school of communication, spoke for a few minutes at the vigil.

“I’m here to support the students and express the pride about this incredible effort,” Andersen said.

Also speaking at the vigil was Franklin Hobbs, a Boston resident who has lived with AIDS for the past 17 years.

Hobbs said that in the communities of color, there has been a consistent increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“We need to recognize the urgency for us as a community to get involved,” Hobbs said. “It’s not ‘those people;’ it’s us.”

Grace Ross, former candidate for governor, followed Hobbs at the vigil.

“Just knowing who has AIDS is only the tip of the iceberg,” Ross said. “It’s a fight against the assumption that what you do doesn’t impact me and what I do doesn’t impact you.”

If you are concerned about HIV/AIDS, contact the Center for Health and Wellness, which offers programs that address the disease, at (617) 824-8666, or visit the center on the third floor of 216 Tremont St.