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World AIDS day to raise awareness

Kristen Durbin | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Countries, cities, communities and people around the world are working to raise awareness of the effects of HIV/AIDS today in observance of World AIDS Day.

On campus, the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), ND-8 and other student activists are sponsoring several events to educate the Notre Dame community about the disease and to stimulate discussion about the disease’s effects and its prevention.

The CSC conducted a campus-wide survey to assess the awareness of the Notre Dame community and over 2,000 students responded to the survey.

“The number of responses is telling of campus that there are a number of students that are aware of the issue and take it seriously and have been affected by it in some way,” Michael Hebbeler, director of student leadership and senior transitions at the CSC, said.

According to Hebbeler, the survey results, which will be posted today in LaFortune, demonstrate that, though some students are educated about AIDS, others believe the epidemic is only a problem in Africa and it does not affect Notre Dame at all.

Hebbeler hopes this misconception will be proven wrong on World AIDS Day.

“This is definitely a global issue on a massive scale, a national issue and a local issue, both in St. Joseph County and on campus,” Hebbeler said. “We want to juxtapose divergent voices on matters of sexual ethics, church teaching and the stigma endured by AIDS patients and their friends and family.”

Although the survey results have not been released, the survey clearly elicited a wide variety of student responses. The last survey question was open ended, which allowed students to express opinions regarding abstinence, contraception and factors in the spread and prevention of AIDS.

While some students shared their personal stories and experiences with the issue, others expressed a lack of knowledge about the effects of AIDS on campus.

“The main purpose of the survey was to elicit student responses to see where they stand in terms of awareness and education,” Hebbeler said. “We also want to put a face on the global issue, discuss its social and medical effects and find methods of intervention and prevention.”

Hebbeler said making the issue real for students is another function of the survey because the 15-24 year old age group has one of the fastest growing rates of contraction of the HIV virus.

The CSC is overseeing the day’s events, but the ND-8 club and a student task force are the primary student groups getting the word out on the issue. The task force, which includes students who participated in summer service learningprograms in AIDS clinics, created the survey and came up with on-campus events.

“The main goal for the project is to get students engaged on an intellectual level about this serious issue that is clearly affecting the Notre Dame community,” Hebbeler said. “We want to get the word out, prompt students to think about the issue critically and gather and discuss the varying viewpoints and possible preventive measures.”

According to Hebbeler, World AIDS Day is just one day to spread the word about the issues surrounding AIDS, and he hopes the conversation will continue.

In order to facilitate this continued conversation and put a face on the issue, Deb Stanley, a community-based learning coordinator who focuses on AIDS, will show a 25-minute film on people affected by the issue in St. Joseph County at the CSC coffeehouse in Geddes Hall at 6:30 p.m.

Stanley will be accompanied by some of the people featured in the film, and they will speak about the experiences and challenges of living with AIDS.

“Real learning comes with personal encounters, and this presentation will show that AIDS is not just an issue in sub-Saharan Africa,” Hebbeler said.

In addition to posting the survey results and some student responses, a piece of the National AIDS Quilt will be displayed in the lounge area of LaFortune.

Students are encouraged to wear red on Tuesday and to stop by the information table in LaFortune, run by ND-8 and Student Government, which will provide information on the effects of AIDS on the community and on college-age people.

Free, anonymous testing will also be available in the University Health Center from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday.