“Our purpose was to raise awareness on an important public health issue that has lost its focus recently,” said Renee Wu ’14, a member of AIDS Walk and one of the event’s main organizers.
Chisara Asomugha, the city’s community services administrator, delivered the keynote speech. In it, she said she was very excited to see that young people care about AIDS, and encouraged the audience to “be smart and get tested.”
After the vigil, Cornell Scott Hill Health Center provided free HIV tests at Dwight Hall.
Yalies made up the smallest percentage of participants of all schools represented at the vigil, but several people associated with the School of Public Health attended. Jasmine Harp SPH ’15 said she attended because she believes that public health students are responsible for fostering awareness on campus, and because she wanted to meet new people interested in combating AIDS by increasing its visibility in the community and the world.
Students from the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on College Street attended the event with their teacher Kjerstia Pugh. Two Cooperative Arts and Humanities students said their high school only offers health classes as elective seminars, and they do not usually touch on topics relating to sexually transmitted diseases.
Delores Greenlace, community events coordinator of the Hill Health Center, said she thought the event was successful because it attracted a population that has been identified as one with a high risk of contracting HIV: young adults between the ages of 18 and 24.
“We are very excited to see that young people care about HIV/AIDS,” Greenlace said. “This is the unique opportunity to reach out to a high-risk population.”
Greenlace added that AIDS is a critical problem in New Haven, adding that the risk of contracting the disease is higher among African-American women and African-American men who have sex with other men, who make up a large part of the city’s population. Making matters worse, she said, people do not usually want to get tested because of the stigma of being considered promiscuous or gay, in spite of widely available resources.
“We need to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS,” Quinnipiac student Matt Francia said. “It is a pressing issue everywhere, whether you’re here, in Africa or in London.”
It is estimated that more than 1 million people in the United States have AIDS.