University observes World AIDS Day

By Caitlin Parton

The University community observed World AIDS Day Monday, joining people around the world to remember and honor those who have died of AIDS, giving support to people living with AIDS and HIV, and raising awareness of the realities of HIV/AIDS.

The disease continues to be the cause of death for thousands of people every day: over 3 million people died from AIDS in 2002. Approximately 42 million people were living with AIDS at the end of 2002.

The day was marked with various programs and offerings around campus, sponsored by several University organizations, including Rockefeller Chapel, Queers and Associates, the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), Students for Global Public Health, Peer Health Educators, Department of Pastoral Care at the University of Chicago Hospital, and the Student Care Center.

Until March 15, Rockefeller Chapel will display six panels from the AIDS Quilt, a traveling memorial that shows the emotional impact and far-reaching span of the AIDS epidemic. Altogether, there are more than 44,000 panels of the quilt, reflecting the experiences of a wide range of people: three-year-olds, teachers, husbands, wives, friends, and lovers.

The Chapel specifically requested squares containing the panels for three people who were known to Rockefeller staff: Tim Warner, partner and spouse of Rockefeller’s administration assistant, David Wyka; Walter Crawford, a child Dean Alison Boden ministered to and sewed the panel for; and Phil Knutson, a friend of Pastor Daphne Burt.

“Because we wanted to recognize that, in some ways, every day should be World AIDS Day, we decided to keep the quilt hanging through winter quarter so that lots of people could get a chance to see it,” said Burt.

“You get a sense of the individuals who died from this disease and how their lives have touched so many,” said Melody James, a Chicago visitor who had heard that the quilt was going to be at the Chapel. “I remember when the news of a ‘gay cancer’ was just breaking in ’79, 1980. I lost dear friends, and brings up my own losses.”

To James, having one day to focus on AIDS and how one can help those affected by it is especially important, since it’s too overwhelming to think seriously about AIDS everyday. She also said people should “write to Bush and tell him to put his money where his mouth is.”

A memorial service was held in Hutch Courtyard at 3:15 with members of the organizations involved in planning the events taking turns reading over 100 names of family members and friends of those associated with University who died from AIDS. Candles were lit in memory of these people and all those who have died of AIDS around the world.

“There is something really powerful about hearing the names of our loved ones read out loud in public, and I think it is particularly important that we remember those who have died of AIDS-related illnesses because for so long there was a lot of stigma attached to the virus,” Burt said, citing several people who had shared powerful stories about their experiences with AIDS. One man who contracted the disease through blood transfusion hid this fact as not to be removed from the larger patient community, Burt said.

A candlelit procession then followed to Rockefeller Chapel. At 4 p.m., Dr. Renslow Sherer, clinical associate in the infectious disease section of the Department of Medicine at the Hospital gave a speech titled “AIDS in the World 2003.” Sherer has watched the evolvement of AIDS, from the first breakout in the early 1980s to its current state, where more is known about the disease and more medication is readily available to help.

“Here at the U of C, we wanted to remind people that AIDS is not a disease that somehow affects ‘other people’ but not us; that it touches our lives and has and continues to claim lives of people we love,” Burt said. “We also wanted to honor those who have died, and to acknowledge that people at this University still grieve the deaths of loved ones who had HIV/AIDS.”

Burt added that she has received an overwhelming number of e-mails from people at the University who either wanted loved ones’ names included in the memorial list or wanted to thank her for her part in hosting the events The Student Care Center (SCC) staffed several tables that encouraged preventative behaviors to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. The SCC recommends that students who are sexually active use latex barriers such as condoms and obtain routine HIV-antibody testing every 6 to 12 months.

“Students are responsive and diligent about seeking out safer sex options on campus, which are provided by my office, as well as utilizing the SCC’s free, confidential HIV-antibody screening test services,” said Kelly Carameli, SCC health educational specialist.

She was concerned, however, that many students feel they are not at risk when in fact the college-age population has one of the highest percentages of new cases each year. Carameli placed special emphasis on using latex barriers while abroad, as the risk of contracting AIDS outside the U.S. is considerably higher than at home.

Throughout the day, the SGAC, which is less than a year old, distributed symbolic red ribbons around campus and collected signatures for a statement of support to be sent to the White House. The group also went downtown in the morning to protest in front of the GOP headquarters.

“Basically, we’d like to point out that President Bush did not provide the level of funding he promised in the State of the Union and encourage him to spend $5.4 billion in the fiscal year 2005,” said fourth-year Emily Churchman, co-founder and president of SGAC.

Churchman said she hoped people would take the day to pause and remember a loved one who passed away due to AIDS. For those not directly affected by the epidemic, Churchman urged them to “feel encouraged that their voice counts, and that they do have a stake in pressuring our government to spend enough money on AIDS.”

Students at the SGAC were optimistic that this year’s events would boost awareness about World AIDS Day, which has not had a substantial presence on campus in years past.