According to HIV.gov, more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today, and one in seven of them are not aware of it. These statistics can be alarming and that is why Social Work students want to play a role in ending the stigma and fear that surrounds HIV. On Nov. 14th, the “Si a La Vida” (Yes to Life) event gathered in front of the speaker’s platform to raise awareness on HIV, how to prevent it, how to get tested and how to support people who live with AIDS.
Dr. Kris Clarke, professor in the Department of Social Work Education, had students in her Social Work 180 course create and develop the event.
“My class worked collaboratively to learn about HIV in our community, envision the event, and divide the labor to arrange everything,” Clarke said. “It has required teamwork and outreach skills in learning to find information and partners in the community.”
Avelina Charles, a fourth-year social work major, coordinated entertainment for the event and said the event garnered a lot of support from organizations, both on and off campus – including the Fresno State LGBT+ Allies Network, Starbucks, the Red Wave Inn and the Student Health and Counseling Center.
“We had no funds so we had to get very creative,” Charles said. “Everybody just really came together because of their passion for the cause. As a class, once we created these groups, everyone brought their strength and their creativity. We wanted this to be informative event, but also fun to attend.”
The area near the University Student Union was bustling with information booths, games, free burritos and coffee, a live DJ and live painting.
Guest speakers for the event included Dr. Paul Simon of the Specialty Health Center at Community Regional Medical Center, the Source LGBT+ Visalia and The Living Room, a program that is dedicated to supporting the well-being and empowerment of persons infected, affected and at-risk for HIV/AIDS.
“Students worked very hard to pull this event together,” Clarke said. “HIV has not gone away. It has transformed. We need to know our HIV status so that we can end HIV in our lifetime. We need to promote knowledge and end the stigma surrounding it.”
Statistically, only 60 percent of people with HIV know about their status according to HIV.Gov.
“I was not aware that there are students being tested positive for HIV right now at the [Student Health and Counseling Center].” Charles said. “That’s why trying to get the information out there is so important, as well as trying to be creative so the information isn’t negative. We wanted to do it in a way that is celebrating life.”
The HIV epidemic is still very prevalent in the U.S.
“There are people testing positive, but maybe with this information we can stop that,” Charles said.
Students who attended the event received pamphlets and information about HIV prevention. Those in the SWRK 180 course emphasized the importance of college campuses sharing this information with their students.
For third-year Philosophy major, Raphique Barakat, attending the event left him with more knowledge than he had before.
“We should focus on one issue a day at least on a college campus,” Barakat said. “It’s good to be big and loud when it comes to HIV awareness. It’s not something to be quiet about.”
This event was in support of World AIDS Day, recognized each year on December 1.
To learn more about the HIV Awareness event, contact Dr. Kris Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Written by Rebeca Flores, CHHS Communication Student Assistant