U.Va. and Charlottesville community work to support education and awareness for World AIDS Day

Current University students, as well as graduates, create events to normalize conversations about sexual health

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The Little White Party hosted by Jason Elliott aims to raise AIDS awareness through celebration.

Started in 1988 in London as the world’s first global health day, World AIDS Day takes place each year on Dec. 1. Both U.Va. student organizations — such as the Student Council and LGBTQ Center — and members of the Charlottesville community have and will host events for World AIDS Day to promote education and awareness of sexual health while bringing special attention to AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control reports from its most recent statistics that about 1.1 million people in the United States had human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and about 15 percent were unaware of it. Globally, in 2017, 36.9 million people were living with the virus. The most affected demographic groups are gay and bisexual men, as well as African-American men.

HIV is the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which occurs as an advanced phase of the same infection. HIV/AIDS is transmitted through certain bodily fluids, often through sexual contact. The disease is very serious, although its initial symptoms may present themselves in a way similar to other illnesses such as the flu. HIV/AIDS cannot be cured, but in-depth treatments through the use of daily medications can help decrease the presence of the virus in the body.  

The global pervasiveness and gravity of the disease have made an event like World AIDS Day important in helping to spread information about HIV/AIDS — what can cause it, who is at risk and the necessary steps for prevention.  

While the Peer Health Educators did not have any specific events planned on World AIDS Day, PHE Coordinator Amanda Cheetham encouraged students to look out for sexual health information and education sessions throughout the year. She emphasized the group’s focus on holding “strategic conversations on Grounds that are accessible by all students” in an email. 

Student Council and the LGBTQ Student Services Center will be hosting a free STI testing event at the Multicultural Student Center in Newcomb on Dec. 3 from 12-3:30 p.m. Free STI testing will be available for all students in support of World AIDS Day.

Another member of the Charlottesville community working to use World AIDS Day as a way to promote awareness is Jason Elliott, Community Testing coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health and U.Va. alumnus. On Saturday, Elliott hosted The Little White Party at 8 p.m. at Second Street Gallery in downtown Charlottesville. The annual event, currently in its fourth year, offered free STI testing in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health. The party also featured two art exhibits and other entertainment, music and dancing, and food. A suggested donation of $10 in support of the cause is a primary example of what Elliott calls “partying for a purpose.” Similarly, the event always honors someone with the Red Knight Award for his or her hard work in continuing HIV/AIDS education and decreasing the stigma that can be associated with the disease.

By having a party that offers STI testing, Elliott said he hopes to present the subject of getting tested as more normal and attractive to all types of people. He emphasized that all are welcome at the party — students or otherwise, those who are very familiar with the details of sexual health and those who are less experienced.  

With these opportunities both on- and off-Grounds, U.Va. students had the opportunity to take part in World AIDS Day and support an increase in education and awareness of the cause.  

“The impact I wanted to make is that people walk away feeling like they know a little bit more, and that they can share a little bit more, and that they can judge a little bit less, and they can fear a little bit less,” Elliott said.

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