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Survey reveals views on AIDS

Kristen Durbin | Friday, December 4, 2009

In an effort to raise awareness of the global HIV/AIDS issue, the results of a student-generated campus survey on the disease were released yesterday in LaFortune as a wrap-up of World AIDS Week.

The survey, created by the Notre Dame student HIV/AIDS task force, revealed the wide range of opinions of the disease on campus, and it also demonstrated that the disease has personally affected several students.

Students anonymously completed 2,207 surveys prior to Tuesday.

According to the survey, 9.6 percent of those who responded personally know someone infected with HIV/AIDS. In addition, 47.8 percent of those who responded believe that the disease affects the Notre Dame community.

The two open-ended questions at the end of the survey allowed students to express their opinions of prevention of the disease and to share their personal experiences.

The responses ranged from ignorance about the issue to personal accounts of living with the disease.

“I have worked with those suffering from AIDS before and the most powerful lesson I learned is that they are still human,” one respondent wrote in response to the final survey question. “They deserve respect and dignity just like everyone else. They are still children of God and deserve to be treated with love and kindness.”

Several other students recounted the personal struggles of living with the disease, and others discussed the social stigma surrounding the disease. Some students noted the effects of having loved ones who suffer from the disease.

Not all students who responded, however, believe the disease necessarily is a pertinent topic of discussion for the University.

“I just don’t feel like this is something that Notre Dame students have to worry about. It’s so rare and if you wear protection you don’t have to worry anyway,” another respondent said.

The HIV/AIDS task force and the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) cite the wide variety of survey responses as an indication of student interest in the issue.

“People in general were pretty interested in the topic, and there was a pretty good outreach to the student body in general,” Margaret Adams, a sophomore member of the HIV/AIDS task force said. “It was shocking to see some negative comments because it’s a sensitive issue and it’s surprising that there were so many uneducated responses at a university like Notre Dame.”

Adams said the task force and the CSC will use the results to determine what needs to be done in terms of increasing awareness of the issue on campus, such as providing more education about the disease and increasing outreach from local AIDS ministries to the University.

Adams said the taskforce will see what the AIDS ministries need from Notre Dame students to get more students involved with activities and educate people about the issue.

“We want to use World AIDS Day as a starting off point to raise more awareness year-round for the disease because there’s a lot to be done here and in the country all year,” Adams said. “We also want to use the day to recognize the global issue and make sure students know there are people at Notre Dame and in St. Joseph County affected by HIV/AIDS.”

In terms of prevention of the disease, Adams said that realistic, practical means must be utilized to effectively stop the spread of the disease, despite the possible difficulties presented by the University’s strong Catholic mission.

“The Church preaches abstinence, but it’s not a realistic goal to stop AIDS globally. We need to find a balance between faith and practical means for prevention,” Adams said.

On Wednesday night, AIDS Ministries from South Bend provided free, anonymous HIV/AIDS testing for about 20 students, evidencing that people are becoming more aware of their health and the gravity of the disease.

“We wanted to provide this resource to educate students more about the disease because testing is a factor in prevention and care,” Mike Hebbeler, CSC director for student leadership and senior transition, said.

In addition, the film “Your Friends and Neighbors, Living with AIDS in South Bend, Indiana,” was shown Tuesday night in the coffeehouse in Geddes Hall and was followed by a discussion session.

The film profiled three people living with AIDS in South Bend.

After the film, Deb Stanley, a community-based learning coordinator who works with AIDS patients, discussed the changing relationship between AIDS ministries and Notre Dame students.

“Fifteen years ago, students volunteered by working with children whose parents were suffering from AIDS. Now people with AIDS in South Bend are healthy and living because medication and knowledge of the disease have improved,” Hebbeler said. “Students are now tutoring adults with AIDS because they are going back to school and they can pursue their goals.”

The full results of the survey and more selected student responses are available on the CSC Facebook page.

Students can take part in the effort to increase funding for HIV/AIDS in St. Joseph County by visiting the CSC Facebook page.