On the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, Chelsea Higgins hopes to start some conversations.
She is executive director of IC Red, a University of Iowa student group planning a week’s worth of activities to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.
“So many people don’t know it’s still an issue,” she said. “We’re trying to raise awareness and reduce stigma and make talking about it less taboo.”
IC Red Week activities include the Reading of the Names on the Pentacrest on Nov. 30 — an annual campus tradition of a sunrise-to-sunset recitation of names of those who died from AIDS — as well displaying a panel of the national AIDS memorial quilt, a handmade tapestry that honors 96,000 people lost to AIDS, in the Old Capitol Museum Nov. 26 to Dec. 1. Other activities include a fashion show, art exhibits, a movie screening and discussion panel.
A UI junior majoring in genetics and biotechnology and music, Higgins first got involved with Red Week efforts her freshman year when she was looking for student groups to get involved with. Previously, IC Red Week was organized by representatives from multiple student organizations.
This year, IC Red is its own, independent student group with around 16 members. That gives the group its own budget and more capacity to organize events throughout the year, Higgins said, not just in the week around World AIDS Day. Earlier this year, for example, the group hosted a campus discussion with gay men who lived through the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.
World AIDS Day, first designated in 1988, was started during that time. Though treatment options and more knowledge about the virus have changed how people live with HIV/AIDS since then, Higgins points out that education remains important.
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HIV — human immunodeficiency virus — is spread through certain bodily fluids, most commonly transmitted sexually or through needle use, and attacks the body’s immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If not treated, HIV can become AIDS — acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
There is no cure for HIV, but it can be controlled with proper medical care. Today, someone diagnosed with HIV and treated before the disease is too advanced can live as long as someone who does not have the virus, the CDC says.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that in 2017, there were 2,790 people living with HIV in Iowa, and 125 Iowas were diagnosed with HIV in 2017.
“I am really hoping we can open some new conversations and remove taboos so people can freely speak about their experiences and what being at-risk means,” Higgins said.
IC Red Week schedule
• Game night and clothing drive benefiting Shelter House, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26, LGBT Resource Center, 125 Grand Ave. Court, Iowa City
• RED Fashion Show and Phelps Art Exhibit, 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 27, University of Iowa Visual Arts Building, 107 River St., Iowa City
• AIDS on the Big Screen: “Dallas Buyers Club” screening, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Becker Communications Building, 25 S. Madison St., Iowa City
• Stopping the Stigma Education Panel with Marie Kruger, Hillel Haim, Dena Dillion and Kethryn Edel, 7 to 8 p.m. Nov. 29, Shambaugh Auditorium, University of Iowa Main Library, 125 W. Washington St., Iowa City
• Reading of Names, 6:45 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. Nov. 30, University of Iowa Pentacrest, 21 N. Clinton St., Iowa City
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• Affiliated event: The Mirage, a night of entertainment, education, free HIV testing and a drag show, 9 p.m. Nov. 30, Iowa Memorial Union, 125 N. Madison St., Iowa City
• AIDS Memorial Quilt panel on display, Nov. 26 to Dec. 1, first floor rotunda, Old Capitol Museum, 21 N. Clinton St., Iowa City
• Day With(out) Art, noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 1, Public Space One, Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., Iowa City
For more information about Red Week events, visit facebook.com/ICRedWeek.
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