AIDS awareness festival promotes safe sex

Speakers encourage students to get tested

The third annual AIDS Awareness Festival helped to spread knowledge and prevention methods with performances, speakers, Chinese food and a whole lot of condoms.

The festival, held in Old Union Hall by the Charles Drew Minority Pre-Health Society, featured acts by KASA MODA, the Pappy Parker Players, the X-Fact’r Step Team and guest speakers from HIV/AIDS education organizations in Binghamton.

The event was held during AIDS Awareness Week to engage with both those infected and affected by the illness, and to spread awareness and prevention techniques.

“One of our biggest goals was to stress awareness throughout the skits and comedy and speakers. It was a celebration,” said Adedolapo Ogunleye, president of the Pre-Health Society and a senior majoring in psychology. “Our theme this year is honoring those infected. I’m not, you may not be, but someone has a sister or a spouse or at least knows someone who is, so we’re all in it together.”

Prevention and accessibility were the focus of the event, and speakers noted that HIV infection could happen to anyone. Thomas Womelsdorf, a harm reduction specialist at the Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP), outlined recent and upcoming treatment options for those infected. Donna — an HIV-positive woman who spoke at the festival — discussed what it was like to deal with both the disease and the stigma surrounding it.

“I’m a 52-year-old mother of two from a small town. I don’t fit any image you have of HIV-positive,” Donna said. “Yet here I am.”

One goal of the festival was to educate a demographic that is very susceptible to the disease. According to Real Education About College Health (REACH), people aged 13 to 29 accounted for 39 percent of all new HIV infections in recent years.

“I definitely think this kind of event is important on a college campus. It’s not done often,” Ogunleye said. “Kids need to know their information, what’s really out there and their status. It’s been embedded in our heads since we were younger, ‘Don’t get AIDS, get tested.’ But kids now, in their prime time, aren’t doing it.”

The event also featured tabling by organizations such as SHADES, Rainbow Pride Union (RPU), the M4 Project, STAP, REACH and Identity Youth Center.

“Our main campaign right now is called ‘Facing AIDS,’” said Aisha Bowen, a REACH member and a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience. “We’re trying to decrease the stigma around the illness.”

The evening was interactive, as audience members were brought on stage for improvisational sketches with the Pappy Parker Players, a comedy group. The proceeds of the $3 cover went to paying for the Pre-Health Society members’ trip to the annual Student National Medical Association conference. Dinner was accompanied by an HIV/AIDS trivia section with condoms as the prizes.

The condoms were not in short supply — bowls full of them overflowed on every table, with members of the Pre-Health Society constantly refilling them with Lifestyles, Trojans and Magnums for the ambitious. And for the unsure, RPU demonstrated on a cucumber in a crash course on how to put one on.

The festival was a night to educate, prevent and try to keep the healthy, healthy. But overall, it served to recognize those who have battled and overcome, eliminating the stereotypes surrounding the disease.

“HIV is just a small part of me as a person,” Donna said. “And I am not going to let it determine who I am.”