Revisiting Davidson’s History of HIV and AIDS

Erin Major ‘19

HIV is still a problem and Davidson is not immune to it. 1 in 150 people in Mecklenburg County are living with AIDS (AIDSVu, 2015). Mecklenburg County has the highest prevalence rate of any county in North Carolina (MCHD, 2018). Despite new medications that help prevent and treat HIV, this disease is very much still a problem that we need to be aware of. However, it’s also important to remember the ways in which historically-disenfranchised people, specifically men who have sex with men, people of color, sex workers, and people who use drugs are disproportionately affected.

Throughout this semester, I have been involved in an independent study class under the guidance of Dr. Wessner investigating the biological and social impacts of HIV and AIDS with three other students. We each entered this class with our own particular interests and experiences in this realm. Mia Hodges worked at the Mwandi Mission Hospital, Abby Fry conducted research in Ghana on reproductive healthcare, Hartlee Johnston worked at an LGBTQ+ health nonprofit, and I worked at a harm reduction organization and needle exchange program. We each were able to bring our individual experiences to deepen our group’s discussion of the various scientific papers and books we read and movies we watched.

As the semester went on and we began to discuss what we wanted our final project for this class to look like, the topic of HIV on Davidson’s campus emerged. Though we each had knowledge on the AIDS Crisis both in the United States and abroad, none of us had ever heard much about the ways in which our campus was impacted by these events. We decided to expand the existing programing for World AIDS Day to encourage students to better understand the history of this infection both broadly and on Davidson’s campus, as well as to see that HIV is still an important and relevant issue. Our goal was to tie in several parts of campus for a series of exhibits and events that would be visible to our entire Davidson community.

Davidson was not left unaffected by the AIDS epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s. At least fifteen students and one professor passed away due to this disease. In 1994, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was brought to campus and was displayed in the Johnston Gym, which is now the Union. This Quilt is being brought back to this campus this year, from November 26th to December 2nd in the Union Atrium, and will feature four panels that each include the name of one of these Davidson students. Students and community members will have an opportunity to create AIDS ribbons and paper quilt squares to honor those they know impacted by HIV.

On Tuesday November 27th and Thursday November 29th during common hour, materials from the library archives will be displayed in the Library Fishbowl that explore Davidson’s history with HIV and AIDS, as well as a look into the history of the LGBTQIA+ community on this campus.

In honor of World AIDS Day on December 1st, on the day before (Friday, November 30th), Commons will be serving red ribbon cookies, the sculptures around campus will be covered for the Day With(out) Art, and Visual AIDS will be screening their annual documentary series in the Wall Atrium at 4:30.

This series of events promoting awareness of both the former and current issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, including the ways in which it has impacted our campus, are intended to reach every student on campus and make it impossible to overlook the fact that HIV remains an issue today. Please join us for any and all of these events, as well as taking a look at the display cases in the library featuring a number of items from the library archives relevant to Davidson’s history with HIV.

Erin Major‘19 is a Public Health and Education Policy major from Weston, Connecticut. Contact her at ermajor@davidson.edu

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