Linda Wilson felt blessed to be talking to Quinnipiac Students in Alumni Hall on April 12. The reason: Wilson was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. “Thank God I’m doing fine now,” Wilson said.
Seventeen years later, Wilson doesn’t get the chance to go out much, but when she can she jumps at the opportunity to educate people about AIDS. “I’ve been out of the loop for a while. I used to go out and talk (to people about AIDS), but only when I could. This was the first time in a very long time.”
When SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) contacted Aids Interfaith Network founder and president Elise Cofield about coming to Quinnipiac to speak with students, Cofield in return asked Wilson if she would join. Wilson accepted the invitation “without hesitation.”
Wilson’s main message to the students was for people to protect themselves and their partners, regardless of orientation, by using some sort of barrier. Wilson also encouraged everyone in attendance to spread the word about AIDS and to educate each other. Cofield, as well as fellow members of the New Haven based AIDS Interfaith Network, also spoke to the audience about ways to help the fight against AIDS.
In the days prior to the AIDS talk, five panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt were displayed in Alumni Hall. On each panel eight different people who died from the AIDS virus were represented by their own section on the panel made by the victim’s family and/or friends. “It’s a very strong feeling when you walk in here,” explained freshman and secretary of SADD Kim Johnston. “It’s a good opportunity and experience to reflect on such an important subject, and it helps me appreciate my life.”
Hundreds of students came to check out the five quilts, two of which included the names of former New Haven residents, Herbert Webber and Danny Quinton, who fell to the deadly virus that has claimed over 3.5 million deaths in 2005 alone. When the 3′ by 6′ panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt visit certain places, usually one of the panels contains a member of that community, or a nearby community, to show that the names on the panels aren’t “just names.” Junior Chris Ostrowski is one student who sees past the name. “It’s an emotional experience looking at the quilts, because you realize these are people. It’s personal,” Ostrowski said.
The AIDS memorial quilt was founded in 1987 in San Francisco. It is a large quilt that is composed of over 46,000 individual panels, and when all of the panels come together the quilt is approximately 51.92 miles long.
Some recognizable names of people who have their names on the memorial quilt include tennis great Arthur Ashe, rapper Eazy E, fashion designer Perry Ellis, actor Rock Hudson, entertainer Liberace, singer Freddie “Mercury” Bulsara, and actor Robert Reed.
In 2005, SADD brought panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Quinnipiac and felt that it should become an annual affair. President of SADD, Charity Stout, felt that the panels from the quilt and having the speakers from the AIDS Interfaith Network were great ways to educate students, and spread word around campus.
SADD, a small yet influential student run organization on campus, tries to hold events every semester to better educate students about making smart decisions. Last semester, in partnership with TKE and the Hamden police and fire departments, SADD ran a simulation of a drunk-driving accident in the middle of the quad, which included a wrecked car.
AIDS has claimed the lives of millions, and is not going away. In 2003 there were an estimated 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 40,000 are infected with HIV every year, and half of those people are under the age of 25. For more information about the Aids Memorial Quilt visit www.aidsquilt.org. The Aids Interfaith Network is located on 1303 Chapel St. in New Haven, and is always looking for volunteer workers.