The newly formed USC chapter of FACE AIDS, a group dedicated to HIV/AIDS advocacy, kicked off its awareness campaign Wednesday with speaker Kay Warren, a well known HIV/AIDS activist.
At the event, which was co-sponsored by the Office of Religious Life, Warren discussed her experience establishing an HIV/AIDS initiative.
Warren explained to the audience how she chose to work with AIDS after reading an article in a local newspaper and viewing “horrific” pictures of people infected with AIDS, including orphans who had lost their parents to the disease.
“I realized I had come to that proverbial fork in the road,” Warren told the audience. “I could go about my comfortable life, or I could become engaged in the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
After realizing she wanted to take action, Warren traveled to other countries to volunteer and help those suffering with AIDS.
On Wednesday, Warren talked about her experiences in Mozambique. Warren emphasized in her speech that regardless of the stigma of AIDS, people with AIDS should not feel alone in the world.
“Stigma is dehumanizing and makes them feel like they are dirt or trash and that is the number one reason I’m an advocate,” Warren said.
Warren told audience members how they can advocate for those who are HIV-positive or who are living with AIDS in the local area or within the surrounding community. Warren suggested volunteering, teaching about abstinence and safe sex, advocating healthy behavior, encouraging testing or even just encouraging those to take their antiviral medication daily, because that can make a huge difference when fighting the disease.
“You must chose to put on your shoulders pain that is not your own,” Warren said.
Maran Yilpet, a freshman majoring in public policy, management and planning who grew up in Nigeria, said after the event that she feels she has a responsibility to educate people about AIDS and hopes to join FACE AIDS.
“I’m really excited about what will happen at USC because I want Americans to understand HIV in a global context because I don’t think they realize how big of a thing it is,” Yilpet said. “I realize even at USC people need to be educated about this.”
Many students in the audience of about 50 were moved by the presentation; many were holding back tears.
“[The event] made me want to cry,” said Natanya Dauster, an undecided freshman who said she may join FACE AIDS. “It was really gorgeous.”
That reaction was precisely what Fischetti and other members of the group were hoping for, as they look to expand and bring in more members.
“Our goal was to have a prominent speaker come to give a face and force to AIDS on campus and we hope to make a name of our own through this platform,” said Chanel Fischetti, the president of USC FACE AIDS and a senior majoring in neuroscience and sociology. “We want to build membership, make a force for the group and show how serious we are in what we believe.”
Fischetti said having Warren — a high-profile member of the AIDS advocacy community — speak made the group feel it is slowly creating awareness.
“It’s a huge deal we are a small group, we have been working on this since last semester,” Fischetti said. “It’s cool to have someone who has a voice and influence and credibility in society to represent our beliefs of making AIDS known here on campus.”
Fischetti said one of the greatest challenges the group faces is getting students to get behind its cause.
“It’s hard to get people to care about something that doesn’t directly relate to them,” Fischetti said.
Amy Herrmann, vice president of USC’s chapter of FACE AIDS and a sophomore majoring in international relations, said she also believes the lack of awareness makes the cause less relatable to students.
“Since there is not a lot of awareness on campus it’s hard to get AIDS closer when people feel so distant from it,” Herrmann said.
Varun Soni, dean of Religious Life, said he sees a lack of awareness on campus, but also pointed out a larger problem.
“The lack of awareness around AIDS on our campus is representative of the global lack of awareness around the issue,” Soni said. “Anything we can do to foster a conversation around HIV is important.”
FACE AIDS hopes to grow and, as the only group on campus that specifically works with helping HIV/AIDS victims, it hopes it will be the group that people can go to to fight AIDS.
“All students need to do is be passionate about creating awareness to make a difference and educate the community of USC and eventually the LA community,” Fischetti said.