AIDS Awareness Day evokes memory of 1980s epidemic

SF State alumnus and AIDS activist Cleve Jones remembers the University during the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began. By the Fall of 1985 many members of the community were dead, dying or caring for loved ones who contracted the disease, Jones said.

“SF State was hit very hard – almost all of the gay male students that I knew back then died,” Jones said. “As I talk (about it) I see all these faces in my mind of all these boys I went to school with who didn’t survive the epidemic.”

After losing many friends to the disease, Jones created the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987 and dedicated the first panel to Marvin Feldman, a close friend and SF State student who died from AIDS-related causes.

The quilt became the world’s largest community arts project with over 48,000 panels added and was later named the NAMES AIDS Memorial Quilt Project, according to the project’s website.

Jones said when he was a student, many dismissed the threat of the disease believing it only affected gay people and African-Americans, which created a powerful negative stigma that still exists today.

To remind students of the epidemic and help end the stigma, Alpha Phi Omega’s Mu Zeta chapter hosted the 19th Annual Multicultural AIDS Awareness Day April 9 at SF State.

The event included educational workshops from local organizations, free HIV testing and contraceptives, which all serve as a reminder of SF State’s long history of involvement in the campaign against AIDS.

(from left to right) Leilanie Dacuycuy, Jasmine Calix and Logan Limm inflate condoms to make balloon art during the Multi-cultural Aids Awareness Day in the quad Thursday, April 9. (Drake Newkirk / Xpress)

(from left to right) Leilanie Dacuycuy, Jasmine Calix and Logan Limm inflate condoms to make balloon art during the Multi-cultural Aids Awareness Day in the quad Thursday, April 9. (Drake Newkirk / Xpress)

Michael Ritter, chair of SF State’s AIDS Coordinating Committee, said he helped establish the ACC in the mid-1980s when HIV and AIDS were rampant in San Francisco and on campus.

“The campus lost many of our faculty, staff, students and administrators during this time and the committee came together to help out those who were living with HIV and to provide prevention education,” Ritter said.

The school set an example for AIDS policies and programs on college campuses throughout the country, according to Ritter.

SF State offers financial resources for students with HIV including two scholarships and the Cindy Kolb AIDS Donation Fund, which is a grant for people living with the disease. The school also holds many AIDS awareness events like MAAD throughout the year.

As a founding member of the ACC, Ritter observed the evolution of MAAD since its inception in the early 1990s. APO fraternity member Mathew Ong approached Ritter after a three-year hiatus and said the fraternity wanted to bring MAAD back to campus.

With some members of the SF State community currently living with the disease, Ritter said the event is important to remind students that HIV still exists.

Shirley Kim Tang, the event’s publicity chair and member of APO, said MAAD seeks to end the silence surrounding AIDS in the SF State community.

“I personally hope students just learn that it is okay to talk about HIV and AIDS and that there are resources on campus and all over the city if they need them,” Tang said.

Events like MAAD contribute to SF State’s distinguished role in the area of AIDS awareness, according to Tang.

“It is slowly becoming a part of SF State’s history and sets us apart from other campuses,” Tang said. “SF State is one of the most open and accepting campuses when it comes to controversial topics and we should continue to celebrate that.”

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