Lectures, Performances Make AIDS Forum Compelling Event
May 6, 2003
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Author: Andrea LaRocca
Forty-two million people worldwide are infected with HIV/AIDS and 8,493 people will die from AIDS today. Are you surprised? Don’t be. These staggering statistics are only the beginning of what was discussed during the AIDS Forum this past weekend.
The newly formed Middlebury College chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) sponsored the AIDS forum. Because the forum was the budding student organization’s first campus-wide event, the goal of the weekend was “simply to get the issues out there and to start to educate Middlebury students, faculty and staff about HIV/AIDS,” said event organizer Simon Isaacs ’03. The goal is hardly nominal, however.
As various speakers echoed again and again throughout the forum, “AIDS is one of the most important issues of our generation and the first step to addressing it is education.”
Forum events began with a Friday evening lecture by U.S. Rep Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on “Fighting AIDS From Capital Hill.” On Saturday, the forum continued in front of Proctor with “Voices From the Frontline,” a student theatrical presentation about the effects of AIDS through first-person narratives of South Africans infected with AIDS and/or involved in the fight against AIDS. The performance, which ran much like a compilation of monologues, featured the experiences of five prominent AIDS activists, including former South African President Nelson Mandela, Zackie Achmat and Phill Wilson.
The performance was a success, said SGAC member and “Voices” organizer Courtney Matson ‘06.5. “The actor’s individual performances gave the pieces vivid color. Those who attended seemed both moved and affected,” she noted. Indeed, although the audience started small, it grew as people who were walking by got caught up in the performance and stopped to watch.
Avery Hill ‘05.5 said, “I came to Proctor just to eat dinner, but on my way in, I unexpectedly got some food for thought also.”
Less dramatic but just as thought provoking was the panel discussion entitled “Pandemic, Student and Faculty Perspectives,” that continued the AIDS Forum events on Sunday. The panel consisted of nine students and two professors, and collectively, the panel addressed various societal aspects of AIDS. Featured speaker Michael Sheridan, Visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, addressed the political ecology of disease, and Professor David Eaton, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, spoke on the social understandings of AIDS and intertwined political conceptions. Kaleb Tamiru, ’03 then talked about the impact of AIDS on economics and Isaacs discussed the relationship between AIDS and national security. The speaker presentations were followed by a question and answer session.
The forum wrapped up on Sunday evening with the public showing of the AIDS documentary “A Closer Walk,” the first film to address the AIDS epidemic. The film was followed by a discussion with Nils Daularie, the president and chief executive officer of the Vermont and Washington, D.C.-based Global Health Council.
For several people, this was the event of the weekend that made the greatest impact. According to Isaacs, several people approached him afterwards and said that they “couldn’t even think of going home to do their work because they were so moved by the film and the discussion.”
For students interested in pursuing the fight against AIDS, the SGAC provides an on-campus outlet for involvement, but there are hundreds of other ways to get involved, such as undertaking an advocacy internship or volunteering in AIDS-stricken countries. There are also small ways to get involved.
Isaacs said, “One of the best ways to start fighting AIDS is to educate yourself.
Don’t just read the New York Times or Newsweek. Find out what’s really going on.” In that case, thanks to the SGAC and this weekend’s AIDS Forum, Middlebury has taken the first step in the fight against AIDS.