Students learn how it feels to be infected with HIV

Nine out of 10 HIV-positive individuals do not know that they are infected with the virus. Worldwide, 50 percent of new HIV infections occur in people between the ages of 15 and 24. Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of reported cases.
A Week For Life set out this week on it’s decennial anniversary to promote AIDS awareness throughout the UM community with a series of activities, events and speakers.
“The various events educate students in a fun environment so that they are more aware of what is available to them on this campus from different organizations, as well as not feeling like they are alone in needing to know information about staying safe,” said senior Joy Suttles, head of the A Week For Life committee.
On Monday, representatives from 10 non-profit agencies and the UM Student Health Center talked to students about HIV prevention and offered booths with games that educated students about the disease.
One of the games, called “Pick a Chick,” required participants to pick an egg and check the underside: they were either “safe” or “infected” by a particular STD. Students who were “safe” won a prize. Those who were “infected” received facts on the particular STD they contracted.
“[A Week for Life] is an interactive and fun way to educate people so they don’t get bored with lectures,” said Leandra Medina, advisor of the A Week For Life committee and interim director for the Butler Volunteer Services Center.
Students also got to “infect” others with HIV by using bright red “transmission bracelets.” Each participant had to “infect” two other students. In total, 500 hundred bracelets were dispersed.
“The bracelets provided students with an eye-opening experience to see how quickly the virus spreads,” Medina said.
Freshman Kelly Younger, also on the Egami step team, which promotes HIV awareness, was “infected” on Tuesday by a friend.
“It makes you really think about AIDS,” Younger said. “People don’t think that it affects them, but it does.”
“I wish people would realize that AIDS doesn’t just affect homosexuals, it affects everyone,” freshman Erin Wright said.
Earlier in the week, members of student organizations walked the infamous AIDS quilt around campus and created panels to be sent to the National Names Project, the organization that compiles the national quilt.
“I feel that the quilt will give comfort to the family members of those who died,” said junior Rachel Dooley-Tucker, who participated in making quilt panels.
On Wednesday, national AIDS activists Shawn Decker and Gwenn Barringer presented “A Boy, A Girl, A Virus, and the Relationship that Happened Anyway.”
Decker, who has had HIV since 1987, developed a relationship with Barringer over four years. They addressed students about their activism, relationship and how to deal with the issue of sex .
“I hope that students see that people with HIV live normal lives and have normal relationships,” Decker said. “And also realize that if one person can stay HIV negative then everyone can.”
There is a “Life Party” planned tonight at 9 p.m. in the Rathskeller.
For more information on AIDS or on ways to get involved, stop by the Butler Volunteer Services Center in UC 240, or call 305-284-GIVE.

Marquita Bell can be contacted at