Project honors Yale AIDS victims

Project honors Yale AIDS victims
Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

Last week, Cross Campus looked different. Red and white balloons, intertwined and attached to the railing leading up to Sterling Memorial Library, floated next to “World AIDS Day Celebration” signs. For most students, those decorations evoked pictures of an epidemic that has swept across numerous African nations, traveled from needle to needle amidst the city streets of Russia and created an American urban crisis in the ’90s.

Few students probably thought of their fellow Yalies.

But in 2010, during a brainstorming session with n+1 magazine, Chris Glazek ’07 did.

While an undergraduate at Yale, Glazek worked on a “history in memories” project related to the Holocaust. He planned to address the AIDS epidemic, “an event in the American psyche that hadn’t been processed by the collective or by individual institutions,” in a similar fashion. He decided to commemorate Yalies who had died from the disease by creating the Yale AIDS Memorial Project.

As the first major YAMP initiative, Glazek compiled eight profiles of Yale AIDS victims in a journal featuring two introductory essays — one by Glazek and the other by professor George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89, who teaches “U.S. Lesbian and Gay History.” The journal, of which 1,000 print copies were published, helped garner $50,000 in funding from the Michael Palm Foundation, an organization created by Michael Palm ’73. Glazek said the journal aimed to draw attention and secure funding for YAMP, which Glazek hoped would expand to tell the stories of more Yalies who had died from the disease.

Though Glazek said YAMP tried to “get some diversity in terms of era,” most names were provided by YAMP’s Board of Advisers — such as Chauncey and current professor Mark Schoofs ’85, recipient of a 2000 Pulitzer Prize for a series on AIDS in Africa. After the first eight profiles, YAMP opened itself to the public and asked people to submit names of Yale students and professors who had died of HIV/AIDS-related diseases, and an “influx” of names came in, said Serena Fu, secretary of YAMP.

“One of the goals of [YAMP] is to figure out how many people did die and what eras they were concentrated in,” Glazek said, adding that the highest concentration of infection was likely in the graduating classes of the late 1970s.

The names of the original eight were easier to come by because they were relatively prominent people, Fu said, though she added that YAMP currently has compiled over 100 names. The project will only end when there are no more names left to be catalogued — when there are no longer any Yalies dying from HIV/AIDS. The organization’s goal is to set up a prototype for other institutions to commemorate their own AIDS victims, Glazek said.

By basing the project in one location — Yale — and using it as an entryway to the larger epidemic, the impact of the disease becomes more understandable, said Richard Espinosa ’10, who became president of YAMP in May. “When something’s that huge, it’s hard to connect to, especially for our generation, who came to age after the most massive waves of death in the U.S.,” he said.

“[The epidemic] has drifted from popular consciousness. There’s a feeling of ‘overness,’ but in the past 15 years, the U.S. transmission rate has stayed steady at 50,000 people per year. We want people speaking out about the current epidemic.”

Currently, YAMP is creating a website to display each of the profiles. Espinosa said YAMP is aiming for a non-public launch of the website — which will feature 20 profiles — in February. It will be made available to IvyQ and the GALA reunion at Yale. The website, yaleaidsmemorialproject.org, will be made public in March. Gregg Gonsalves, a member of the board of advisers, said YAMP’s online medium will make replicating the project inexpensive, allowing it to reach more people.

Gonsalves said he hopes this particular medium of communication — a semi-story-telling memoir — will make people remember just how close the epidemic was and is to Yale, in a way that essays, articles and statistics cannot.

“In academic institutions, we learn a lot by reading and secondary sources. But there’s no substitute for direct experience,” Gonsalves said. “All of the profiled ones are long dead. They taught and learned in the same classrooms we take classes in. They graduated from the same colleges that we’re in.”

Correction: Dec. 5

A previous version of this article misstated the number of journals that were printed and the number of profiles that will be on the website launched by YAMP.

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