To Tiara Willie, helping people learn about the effects of HIV/AIDS is rewarding, she said, because most do not realize how close to home these diseases may be and do not take out time to understand them.
“For my masters thesis I am discussing the AIDS epidemic and its impact on women, especially women of color,” said Willie, 23-year-old graduate intern at the Multicultural Center. “I also think this topic is important for students and faculty here because just a couple years ago, Southern was in the top 20 percent of schools with an AIDS problem; especially being right in the middle of New Haven where we have a high population of AIDS. People need to know about the dangers of this and need to learn information about it.”
The My Vagina and AIDS program gave information about the statistics regarding the disease and the people who have it the most in Connecticut. The program also went into detail about ways people can be open to communicating about diseases instead of being embarrassed to talk about it.
“So many people nowadays are afraid to talk to one another about something as important as diseases like AIDS,” said Marian Evans, professor of public health at Southern. “If we are afraid to speak to each other, than how are we supposed to keep the people we care about safe?”
HIV/AIDS can be transmitted through injections during drug use, unprotected sex, and through pregnancy.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “at the end of 2008, the estimated number of persons living with an AIDS diagnosis in the United States and dependent areas was 490,696. In the 50 states and the District of Columbia, this included 479,161 adults and adolescents, and 707 children under age 13 years at the end of the year.”
In Connecticut alone, the highest percentage of HIV/AIDS belongs to men between the ages of 40 and 49. Hispanic, Black, White—in terms of race, there is almost an equal percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS.
“This program is good because it teaches what people are afraid to speak about and helps them understand better and know more about HIV/AIDS,” said Medgine Benoit, 20-year-old public health major. “The program was so great last year that I decided to come again this year. More students should show up for programs like this because they really do inform you.”
The My Vagina and AIDS program explains about how to decrease the stigma about HIV/AIDS and increase awareness amongst people. The stereotypical ideas about these diseases can be changed through the media, said Evans. Instead of giving everyone a pill to fix a problem, they should show how to prevent the disease.
“We can’t tell by looking at people if they have a disease or not, so we need to be able to sit down and talk to each other,” said Willie. “Men and women need to take ownership of their bodies and feel empowered to speak up.”
The program encourages people to spread the word to friends and family about the precautions that can be taken when it comes to diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.
“Start with yourself and then spread the word. It takes the public will to prevent the spread of disease,” said Evans. “I encourage every student to come to programs on campus like this one so they can learn about how they can make a difference. It just starts with sitting down and having a conversation.”