Campus group holds symposium to promote HIV awareness

HIV/AIDS is a disease that is prevalent not only in Africa and America, but all over the world.

Common misconceptions, such as it can be spread through kissing and sneezing, float around, but two of the University’s organizations took action in order to address the truth of this pandemic.

Yesterday the Caribbean Association, in collaboration with the Black Student Union, hosted an all-day conference called the “HIV/AIDS Symposium: AIDS in the Global Community in the Union.”

The CA is a group of students whose mission is to “promote Caribbean culture and more than that to also educate,” said Sely-Ann Headley, a sophomore majoring in nutrition sciences and secretary of the organization.

While CA usually focuses on Caribbean culture through events like Reggae Night, Anjuli Lochan, senior liberal studies major and vice president of CA, said their first inclination to bring this conference to the University was because of the affect AIDS has on the Caribbean community.

Then they decided to take it to a global stance.

“I think we should target everyone,” Lochan said.

Adviser of CA, Ewart Skinner, said the goal of the conference was “to raise awareness of the pandemic of college students, faculty and staff,” Skinner said. “So they can provide leadership in the movement to prevent the disease.”

Anamita Gall, president of CA, agreed with Skinner.

“People [should] be more educated on the topic in general,” Gall said.

Several speakers presented information, misconceptions, the testing process, prevention and personal stories with HIV/AIDS.

Betsy Bunner, the AIDS education director, was up first and discussed an overview of AIDS and introduced two ladies, one African American and one Caucasian, who are HIV-positive.

Richard Ehrbar, a sophomore telecommunications major in Skinner’s Global Telecommunication Systems class, said he was inspired by one of the guests in particular, Kristy. Her story was about how she and her husband remained together and even had children together after Kristy was tested positive for HIV.

“It’s inspirational to hear individuals who have a positive [HIV] status still able to live a ‘normal’ life,” Ehrbar said.

After participants were provided with a catered lunch, the campus group Decreasing Discrimination and Stereotypes conducted a workshop on stereotypes and misconceptions about those living with and contracting HIV/AIDS.

Some issues brought up were how these diseases affect everyone, not just one race, that everybody should become educated on the issue, and that everyone needs to take action to prevent the disease, no matter how small the step is.

“People need to be visible and show that they care about the issue,” said senior Ashley Thompson. “Each of us has the availability.”

Thompson said she learned about some of the statistics of discrimination and stereotypes that exist about HIV in the clips DDAS showed during the presentation. Such as a high percentage of people that believe that one can spread the disease simply by sneezing – but this is far from true.

Other presenters included Srinivas Melkote, who discussed the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India, and DaKysha Moore, who is a nurse at the University of Toledo Medical Center. Moore focused on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within the African-American community as well as the psychological factors that place African-American college students at risk for getting the disease.

Ann Locher covered the new testing process and methodology to diagnose HIV/AIDS. While Locher discussed testing, HIV testing was offered from 3 to 5 p.m. in the room next door to the conference room in the Union. The results were available up to 20 minutes after being tested.

Ehrbar thought the idea of testing was great. He said he believes that those who are sexually active should know their HIV status. He said he has taken advantage of the free HIV testing at the Wellness Center and feels it has a good environment.

While others feel indifferent about getting tested, Ehrbar assured those that it is not that bad.

“The first time is difficult,” Ehrbar said.

After Locher presented the new testing process, Phyllis Dako-Gyeke, a graduate student majoring in food and nutrition, discussed the predicament the government officials in Ghana are dealing with along with the disease itself.

Afterward, Bernadette Paul talked about strategic planning to create awareness and help reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Skinner also talked about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean along with communication strategies and research to spread the role of the epidemic.

After listening to the speakers Ehrbar said he will take away with him “greater understanding” about HIV/AIDS. “Not just knowing about it, but how to go out in society now to use certain tactics ” to dictate the tone to get the concessions,” Ehrbar said.

Gall said she thought this program was a good way to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS to college students, but she said education on the disease should start younger. She said people within the age range of 15 to 24 have the most reported cases of the disease.

This is the first time CA and BSU have done this program, and they are hoping to continue it.

CA wanted to give thanks to all their sponsors for backing up the conference, but Skinner said he wanted to give special thanks to the president and vice president of the organization, Gall and Lochan.

“It wouldn’t have happened without them,” Skinner said.