Utah Universities on Board for World AIDS Day

Along with AIDS and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations from at least three Utah cities, a number of universities and colleges will also observe World AIDS Day — and some of them have even planned a week around the day, which promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and commemorates those who have died or whose lives have been impacted by the disease.

The University of Utah will hold a series of events throughout the week leading up to the day, which is observed annually on Dec. 1. From Nov. 22 to Dec. 3, the school, in partnership with Planned Parenthood of Utah’s VOX student group, will present an AIDS Condom Wall on campus as well as “Stay Alert, Stay Aware,” during which VOX members will distribute free condoms and coffee in partnership with Westminster College.

On Dec. 1 itself, the school’s LGBT Resource Center and Student Health Center will partner for several events surrounding not only sexual health, but groundbreaking research into HIV/AIDS being conducted in the school’s medical labs. At 10:30 a.m., Elizabeth Craig will present a safer sex workshop called “’There is a Monster in My Bed!’: An Overview of Sexual Health Including STDs and How to Protect Yourself.” This presentation, said Kathleen Covington, graduate assistant for the LGBT Resource Center, will cover safer sex practices for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, not just gay men and heterosexual people. This workshop will be followed by a speaker series about HIV/AIDS research at university, during which four researchers will discuss their work.

“We wanted to connect upper and lower campus” for World AIDS Day, said Covington, referring respectively to the medical research labs at the mountainside University Hospital and the rest of the school’s campus beneath them.

The speaker series will run 12–3:30 p.m. in the Student Union’s Collegiate Room, with each speaker giving 45- to 50-minute presentations. Dr. Wesley Sundquist will begin with a lecture on a topic that will be announced shortly. He will be followed by Dr. Vicente Planelles who will give the presentation, “Why HIV Reservoirs are Difficult to Eradicate,” about pockets of the virus that often hide in an HIV-positive person’s body.

“He basically is talking briefly about the history of the HIV epidemic, the origin of the virus in primates, the discovery of antiretroviral therapy [in the mid ’90s] and additional new therapies” being researched at the University of Utah, said Covington.

Dr. Michael Kay will speak next on “Inhibiting Viral Entry for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV,” a presentation about various HIV inhibitors, like polymer vaginal rings and gels, that several of the U’s medical labs are currently developing. In an article on these devices published by QSaltLake earlier this year, Kay explained that these devices hope to block the virus before it infects vaginal cells.

Finally, Dr. Larry Reimer will speak on “HIV: Where We’ve Been and Where We Are.”

“He’s going to give a brief narrative about the history [of HIV/AIDS] as well, and how the illness and our perceptions of it have changed over time,” said Covington, noting that Reimer would also use “characteristics of HIV infection locally as a model” to discuss these perceptions on a national and global scale.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity to get upper and lower campus involved [in something together], so the greater number of students and faculty who attend, I think the greater chance we have of ensuring that we have successful collaboration with upper and lower campus, and we’ll have more opportunities in the long run,” said Covington.

A number of HIV/AIDS prevention organizations will also be present throughout the day in the school’s Student Union lobby to provide students and community members with information about HIV testing and other subjects. Additionally, from 2:30–5:30 p.m. the school will screen, in the Student Union theater, two films about HIV: Pedro: The Pedro Zamora Story about the life and work of Zamora, an openly gay and HIV-positive man and star of MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco, who died of HIV-related causes in 1994; and Yesterday, about a South African Zulu mother trying to raise her daughter while dying of AIDS.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, which is located on the campus, will also honor African AIDS victims by observing a Day With(out) Art, a movement begun in 1989 when the world’s artistic communities were being hit hard by the disease. As part of this day, museums drape at least one piece in their collection in black, effectively removing it from viewers’ sight.

This year, as last year, the draped piece will be a 20th century Sowei helmet mask from the Mende people of Sierra Leone, which is part of the museum’s permanent Africa: Arts of a Continent exhibition. The diamond-shaped wooden mask was worn by members of the Sande women’s society to symbolize Sowei, a water spirit who guides women into the roles of wife and mother.

“The “absence” of this work in the Africa: Arts of a Continent exhibition will serve as a reminder to museum visitors of those who have fallen victim to the disease and are now absent, as well as those who continue to suffer from the epidemic and crusade for a cure,” said the museum in a release. It noted that Sierra Leone had roughly 55,000 people living with HIV or AIDS in 2007 and that sub-Sahara Africa, in which the country is located, “is more heavily affected by HIV and AIDS than any other region in the world, with an estimated 22,400,000 adults and children living with the disease at the end of 2007; approximately 1,400,000 who died from the epidemic that year; and over 14,000,000 children who are now orphaned” according to AIDS charity AVERT. The group also estimates that nearly 33,000,000  people around the world are living with HIV/AIDS.

Admission to the museum will be free throughout the day, and a card explaining the mask’s “absence” will be placed on top of the drape.

Weber State University will also observe World AIDS Day with a presentation on the fundamentals of HIV given by members of the Northern Utah Coalition at 12:30 p.m. in the school’s Shepherd Union, Room 232.

The University of Utah will close out its World AIDS Day events with a “Queer Sex Education Conference” in the school’s CRCC building, room 215. Like a similar event held this spring for queer women, the conference will cover safer-sex techniques for men who have sex with men, as well as topics pertaining to healthy relationships and enhancing sexual satisfaction.

Covington noted that the school would also hold free HIV testing at its Madison Student Health Center, located on the corner of Mario Capecchi Drive and 500 South. Testing will be held 2–4 p.m. on Dec. 2, 7 and 9. For more information call 801-581-6431.

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