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Southern students raise awareness for World AIDS Day with local colleges

Photo courtesy | Elie Santiago
College students gather on the New Haven green for World AIDS Day

REBECCA BAINERGeneral Assignment Reporter

Wearing red hats and carrying blue bags, Southern students participated in a march to the New Haven Green to raise awareness for World AIDS Day that took place on Dec 1. The march was modeled after a flash mob and the red hats were used to draw attention to the group of students from Yale University, University of New Haven, Quinnipiac University and Southern.

“The red hats were something that we could all wear so that everyone knew that we were part of this program,” said Sal Rizza, associate director of Student Life at Southern. “So, it was kind of a way to unify or show solidarity.”

After, the march students came together on the green to listen to guest speaker Chisara Asomugha, student speakers from each university and the Yale a capella group.

Rizza said the idea came from Vince Contrucci, director of community service at Quinnipiac, who wanted to do something for World AIDS Day. “We came up with different concepts and the concept for today was kind of like a flash mob,” said Sal Rizza. “We had students from different universities line up a few blocks away and march to the green.”

A bus service was provided from Southern’s campus to the downtown New Haven area to transport participating students and the event began at 5:30 p.m.

Keaghan Hamilton, senior public health major and president of the Public Health Society at Southern, said she felt it was important for the club to get involved. “I pushed it,” said Hamilton, “and everyone really loved the idea of what this was standing for, so we decided to go ahead and be involved in it.”

Earlier in the day a panel discussion took place about the topic and Hamilton said one of the topics discussed was the public’s perception of HIV/AIDS, and the message students should take away is simple.

“A disease like this can bring people together,” said Hamilton, “and it’s not something to be ashamed of.”

According to the World AIDS Day website, the day has been held on Dec. 1 every year since 1988 as an opportunity for people around the world to come together in the fight against HIV and to show their support to those living with HIV and those who have died.

HIV is a human immunodeficiency virus, according to WebMD, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS. WebMD reports that according to the Center for Disease Control, 1,051,875 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with AIDS since the disease was first diagnosed in 1981 and about 583,298 have died from the disease in the U.S.

Melody Rueangrung, a freshman nursing major, said she participated in the event because she is aware of the effect AIDS has on those who have it and she wanted to show her respect to them. “I feel like it was for a good cause,” said Rueangrung. “Since I’m going into nursing I do care about AIDS, what it causes to people and what not.”

Guest speaker Asomugha, who is a community services administrator, addressed the crowd telling students about the mayor’s task force on AIDS, which was initiated in 1986. “There were many organizations in this city of New Haven,” said Asomugha, “that wanted to make a statement that HIV and AIDS are not a stigma or a badge of dishonor but something that people are living with and something that we can do something about.”

Asomugha, who is also a pediatrician and health services researcher, said she was thankful to the students for coming out in the cold weather and organizing on behalf of World AIDS Day. “What you guys are doing, gathering here today on the green is a representation that social will still exists,” said Asomugha, “and there is a moral purpose to continuing addressing HIV/ AIDS and making sure that people who are living with HIV/AIDS have the resources and support they need to be able to live long and successful lives.”

Asomugha said she knows students have heard it multiple times, but one of the most important things they can do to protect themselves is to make safe decisions. “If there’s one thing I can tell this young crowd, it’s get tested,” said Asomugha. “Be smart. Get tested.”

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