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From The Carolinian, UNCG, Greensboro, NC:
World AIDS Day - Raising Awareness
By: Elliot Laffey
Issue date: 12/6/05 Section: Campus News
"We've taken our guard down," said Matt Hill, business manager of PRIDE! He was referring to the generation born in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. during the 1980s.
And according to the Center for Disease Control, college students are 3.5 times more likely to be infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) than non-students. Over half of the new cases diagnosed in this country occur in ages 15-24. Groups like PRIDE! and E.L.I.T.E. believe an educated community should not be so ignorant.
World AIDS Day was Thursday, and PRIDE! held an informative discussion that night. But the whole week was touched by like seminars and information booths, where free condoms and red ribbons were handed out by the campus Wellness Center.
Misty Perry, a 26-year-old UNCG graduate student, was PRIDE!'s guest speaker.
"We can all be infected," she said, "but we all will be affected by this disease."
According to Perry, 1 in 5 college students have an STD. And HIV is the 5th leading cause of death between the ages of 18 and 24.
In order to demonstrate the severity of the disease, PRIDE! played a game. The vice president, Sarah Benedek, 21, handed out purple index cards to the 30 people attending the meeting. Then she told everyone to go up to someone, shake his hand, and then write that person's name down on the card. They were instructed to repeat this process for five minutes.
When the five minutes passed and everyone had taken their seats, Benedek asked the two people who had no mark on the back of their cards to stand up. These two participants, for the demonstration, were infected with an HIV strand. One of them included PRIDE! President Chris Wood.
Wood read the list of names on his card. Each person he shook hands with was infected, and that person had to stand up. These were people that Wood had sex with.
"Was it difficult to say no?" Benedek said, stressing the importance of being able to say no.
When Wood finished reading his list, only three out of the 30 people remained seated. However, those people who had a copyright sign on the back of their card could sit back down.
They wore protection, but unfortunately, there were only two who sat down.
Other cards had other symbols, each signifying a type of STD contracted, along with HIV. This included syphilis, genital warts, and herpes.
Later in the meeting, Perry, a certified peer educator, went over the facts of the disease.
She made a list of bodily fluids on a white board in the front of the room. Then she erased the secretions and vomit. These, according to her, contain a high acidity. HIV is a picky disease and does not survive in those fluids that have an unbalanced ph level.
She erased mucus, pus, and earwax, simply because HIV isn't carried by those. Then she erased tears, because it takes gallons to spread. Saliva contains an enzyme which causes the HIV strand to fall apart, and is no threat to anyone. She erased saliva.
Four words were left on the board: blood, semen, breast milk, and vaginal fluids. To be infected, a person must come in contact with one of those four.
"It's not about risk groups, it's about risk behaviors." said Perry.
HIV doesn't care about a person's ethnic origin, nor does it care about a person's sexual orientation. Unsafe sex is HIV's lover.
According to the CDC, however, 48% of AIDS cases are African American. Kim Sexton-Lewter, who educates in the Wellness Center, said the data was alarming. African Americans only make up 13% of the population.
African American women are 19 times more likely to be infected than white women. E.L.I.T.E., an organization promoting academic excellence in the black community, held a seminar on November 28th, where Sexton-Lewter spoke.
E.L.I.T.E. goes beyond advocating just safe sex. According to the president, Taryrn Njagu, all nine members of the new organization believe in abstinence.
"Save yourself for marriage," Njagu said.
Current data shows that the white community has a slight decline in new HIV cases. But infections in the black community are on a startling rise. They are contracting it the fastest,
"because they don't ask," said Njagu.
Njagu places the blame on what is known as "down low brothers." These are African American men who engage in homosexual activity, but do not consider themselves gay.
"Being gay [In the black community] is still taboo," said Sexton-Lewter. "So you have people leading double lives, because as far as they're concerned, they're not gay and they're not doing those things. So the information is not getting there."
These "down low brothers" bring the virus to their wives. And then the wives have children. And because the wives don't know how to handle the disease during pregnancy, for most of the time they don't know they have contracted it, they pass it on to their offspring. for students and the public and I am very happy that UNCG had the opportunity and the resources to put this on," said Katie Fennell, a junior majoring in English, who attended the event.
In African American men, aged 35-44, AIDS is the number one killer. And it's because the information about the disease is not getting out to that community. The death rate is high because black men wait too long before getting tested.
"When the whole epidemic hit, it began as a disease for the gay white man. Now it has shifted from gay white men to black heterosexual women."
In both seminars, the main agenda was to enforce safe sex. Perry even demonstrated how to put a condom onto a person's hand. "Yes, it's big enough," she said.
She also pointed out the importance for sexually active people to be tested every six months.
One member of PRIDE! raised his hand and asked if two partners were required to have safe sex. Perry responded,
"If it's some guy you just met on gay.com, then yes. But if it's your partner of two years, and you know you're both clean, then go at it."
But Njagu said,
"I'm refraining from sex until I'm married."
She understands that people are going to do it anyway, though. She just hopes they "won't be stupid."