AIDS awareness covers Quinnipiac

Meredith Somers

The signs on the floor read “Do Not Touch.” Clearly this only applied to the exhibit. The solemn faces and heavy silences were outward expressions of the sincere emotion affecting the visitors to the AIDS Quilt at Quinnipiac University.

Organized by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), five panels of the internationally known and traveled AIDS Quilt were on display for two days last week in Alumni Hall.

Audrey Foote, a SADD member and self-entitled AIDS Quilt Coordinator, “heard Kerstin Soderland mention the Quilt several years ago, and Chris Kurker-Stewart and I started looking into what it took to get a piece of the Quilt [on-campus].”

“There were so many steps to the process,” recalled Kurker-Stewart. “We had to apply one year in advance. We had to send dimensions of the room we were thinking of using, a $570 donation, an agreement to keep the panels eight feet apart for walking room, and promise there would be no food or drink near the Quilt.”

The idea for the Quilt came from a San Franciscan man named Cleve Jones in 1985. A gay rights activist, Jones decided to tape 1,000 placards to the Federal Building in San Francisco to commemorate the 1,000 AIDS victims who had died in the city. Moved by the similarity of the taped plaques to a patchwork quilt, Jones started the NAMES Project Foundation with Mike Smith in the hope of never forgetting victims of the disease.

The group began making real patches for a giant quilt, beginning with the memory of Jones’ friend Marvin Fieldman. On October 11, 1987, the first display of the Quilt in its entirety took place on the National Mall during the National March for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C. Made of 1,920 panels, it began a four-month, 20-city tour, adding roughly 6,000 new pieces at each stop. Since 1987, the Quilt has only been displayed to its full size four other times. There are now over 44,000 panels.

Each panel of the Quilt is unique. From the five portions on display in Alumni Hall, one could see the range of thought and feeling put into each piece. Some panels contained signatures of loved ones, while others had prayers and pictures. Some panels’ origins were as close as Hamden High School and the University of Connecticut. Also included was a panel dedicated to the famous 13-year-old Ryan White who was denied entry into his school after unknowingly being infected with HIV from a blood transfusion for his hemophilia.

Raymond Sipperly, a native of Woodbury, Conn., and his two-year-old son drove three hours from their current home in Upper MontClair, N.J., to see the panel he helped create for his brother who passed away from AIDS in 1994.

“Brian was a funny, uplifting person,” Sipperly said. “It’s certainly a personal loss, and seeing his panel I might not have tears on the outside, but inside my heart it’s very touching and emotional. He only lived for 32 years, but he lived more in those 32 years than most other people do in their whole long life.”

Even visitors to the Quilt who had not lost someone felt moved by the message of the panels.

“I think this Quilt is perfect because it combines the individuality of the victims with the universality of death from this syndrome,” said law student Hilary Fried.

Looking back on the showing, Foote was pleased. “I was really surprised by the turnout. Within two minutes of setting the Quilt out, someone came in. It showed that people listen to what’s happening on campus.”

Foote also hoped to continue her efforts in the future. “We want to make this an annual event,” she said. “Maybe with a bigger budget and proof that people support this, we can get more panels for a longer amount of time.”