BECKLEY– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.1 million people in the United States live with HIV and that one in seven of these people aren’t even aware that they’re infected. What’s more, college students fall within the category that makes up nearly a quarter of all new cases – and they’re the least likely to have access to the care they need.
Those are sobering statistics for an illness that brings with it so much devastation. And while great strides have been made in treating HIV and AIDS patients, there’s still a high level of uncertainty and misinformation about the disease among college students.
World AIDS Day is Friday, December 1, and to acknowledge the day of awareness, WVU Tech’s division of Student Life and the Student Health Clinic are encouraging students to learn more. As part of that encouragement, the University is hosting sections of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt on campus throughout the week.
The quilt project was established in San Francisco in 1987 to commemorate those who died of AIDS. More than 48,000 individual panels exist today, and the names of 96,000 people adorn the project. The quilt was famously displayed in Washington, D.C. in 1996, where it covered the entire National Mall. It is the largest single community art project in the world and weighs a collective 54.5 tons.
Three 12×12 pieces of the project, which include the names of West Virginians who were lost to the disease, are currently on display in the WVU Tech library.
“To host these pieces during the week of World AIDS Day is huge,” said Scott Robertson, Assistant Dean of Students for TRIO and Diversity Programs.
“To have pieces that represent those we lost in West Virginia is very moving. It brings a piece of this important history to our campus. Quilting is a big part of Appalachian culture, and so these large pieces stand out in a powerful way,” he said.
The display of the quilt was made possible through a grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. The quilt pieces will be on display and open to the public during regular library hours through Friday. And while the display is a powerful conversation starter, the week’s discussion doesn’t end there.
The Tech Alliance and the Black Student Union will be hosting an information booth in the library on Friday, December 1 from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. to share information on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
Robertson said that the effort is part information-sharing and part myth-busting.
“It’s important just to bring knowledge of HIV and AIDS, and that it doesn’t just impact a certain group of folks or a certain niche. It’s a topic that’s often very out of sight, out of mind, so people forget about it,” he said. “People don’t understand that there are people they pass on the street, maybe every day, who have HIV or AIDS. There are real stories and real people behind the statistics.”
Robertson pointed out that the region faced an outbreak scare less than a month ago, where health officials in the state were able to contain a 15-county outbreak of the HIV virus.
“It’s here. It’s across the world. We want our students to understand that this is something that they might experience or be exposed to wherever they are. It’s important to acknowledge this day and to increase awareness in Southern West Virginia,” he said.
The information booth will also cover the topic of prevention, and will distribute condoms to visiting students.
“We had a student contact the Trojan company over the summer and they have provided condoms that we can distribute as we share information about how students can protect themselves from HIV and other STIs,” said Robertson.
Students who have questions or concerns about exposure to HIV, AIDS or other STIs should contact WVU Tech’s Student Health Clinic.
For those who want to know more about HIV and AIDS in the United States, visit the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/.
A campus within the West Virginia University system, WVU Tech is a four-year institution that offers more than 40 academic programs and 9 ABET-accredited engineering programs. WVU Tech is ranked #1 in the state for annual student return on investment. For more information, visit wvutech.edu.