In 1996, a SF State fraternity created Multicultural AIDS Awareness Day to educate students about the disease.
Fifteen years later, AIDS still exists, but the dedication to awareness has made education more widely available to the SF State community and CSU campuses.
In an attempt to educate students about HIV/AIDS, fraternity Alpha Phi Omega’s Mu Zeta chapter hosted SF State’s 15th annual Multicultural AIDS Awareness Day Thursday at Malcolm X Plaza in conjunction with other city and campus-based health organizations.
A portion of the inaugural week-long SF State Spring Festival, the April 14 event attempted to raise awareness of the sexually transmitted disease among students—and more importantly, lessen the stigma in certain communities.
“Today is all about spreading awareness and helping each other,” said APO co-chair Darius Ngo, 21, a double major in international relations and Chinese. “Not LGBT, not black, not white. AIDS is not a specific disease and anyone can be affected.”
Long stigmatized as an STD that primarily affects the gay community—currently 25 percent of San Francisco’s gay population has been diagnosed with AIDS, according to UCSF Clinical Coordinator Francis Salmieri—anyone, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, is at risk of contracting the disease through unprotected sex, blood transfusions, needle sharing or breast milk infected with HIV.
HIV is the virus that leads to AIDS, but infected individuals can delay the progression of HIV for years thanks to advances in medical technology.
Throughout the day, each organization educated students about the development of AIDS treatments and the effects of AIDS on the multicultural community both on and off campus. Also, the SF State Health Center offered free HIV testing; EROS, a safe-sex organization, presented a “Latexhibition,” a piece of art composed of condoms and other latex products; and there were even cultural performances including dancers from the Indian Student Association.
“Our school is a really fertile place for AIDS awareness,” said Daniel Alper, 22, an environmental studies major.
The day was not without its alarming statistics—one of which came from the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center.
In the past decade, men and women of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have had a higher HIV infection rate than any other ethnicity and two-thirds of that demographic have yet to be tested for HIV, according to the Banyan Tree Project, a national campaign to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS in the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
“We want to advertise,” said Ben Cabangun, 26, a graduate student in Asian American studies who also manages the API Wellness Center. “There is a stigma in the API community about HIV.”
To fight the stigma, API handed out free condoms and informative pamphlets.
“This (raising awareness) builds a coalition among all these organizations at SF State and it’s amazing,” Cabangun said. “We’re all here to reach out to young folks and that’s cool.”
Since the onset of the AIDS pandemic in the early 1980’s, SF State has been a leader in raising awareness of the disease. The school’s AIDS Task Force, which focuses primarily on AIDS education, was established in the fall of 1985, well before a 1986 Cal State University mandate directed all campuses to develop committees in order to address the educational needs and concerns of HIV/AIDS infection and awareness.
This led to the creation of the SF State AIDS Coordinating Committee and in that same year, SF State held the first AIDS Awareness Week within the CSU system.
APO began sponsoring Multicultural AIDS Awareness Day in 1996.
“A lot of cultures are uneasy about a thing like this and it’s not something people generally talk about,” said Santee Hernandez, 23, an electrical engineering major. “But it’s good to see a lot of support for such an important issue.”
Despite the serious nature of the disease, many activities attempted to bring joy to the environment. These included “MAAD Bingo” and “STI Jeopardy.”
“We just wanted to get the word out that it’s been 15 years, which is a pretty big milestone,” said event organizer and APO co-chair Joanie Espinoza, 19, a business management major. “You can’t stop AIDS, but you can increase awareness of it.”