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Students Take Action to Fight AIDSFourth-year chemistry students Koichi Kawamura (left) and Lisa Akiyoshi look at “I Know” bracelets during UCLA’s World AIDS Day event Thursday. (Photo by Joyce Lin of the Daily Bruin.)

Students Take Action to Fight AIDS

The focus of this year's World AIDS Day was to raise awareness locally as well as shed light on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

This article was first published in the Daily Bruin.

Tiffany Pan, Daily Bruin contributor

As guitar music coincided with African drumbeats, students from all over campus came together in Bruin Plaza on Thursday, aiming to spread knowledge about HIV/AIDS.

The Student Welfare Commission, along with many other student groups, hosted World AIDS Day, an event designed to educate people about HIV/AIDS in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease both on campus and abroad.

The focus of this year's World AIDS Day was to raise awareness locally as well as shed light on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where, according to statistics by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, nearly 23 million adults are living with the disease.

To kick off the rally, three processions of students made their way from DeNeve Plaza, Schoenberg Hall and the Court of Sciences, converging at Bruin Plaza just as the bells of Powell Library struck noon.

"We really look like one man – one man today coming together to fight this pandemic," UCLA AIDS Institute ambassador Adam Stern said over a microphone on McClure Stage. Stern sings lead vocals for The Grizzly Peak, who performed at the event.

As he spoke, the marchers pushed toward the stage, many wearing white "Knowledge is Power" T-shirts and linking arms or holding blue, green and black signs.

Members of Gonja Dreams, a group of African drummers who accompanied the marchers to Bruin Plaza, performed together in front of the crowd before turning the microphone over to Undergraduate Students Association Council President Jenny Wood.

"We are here to take action," Wood said to the crowd.

Other events included free HIV testing offered by two mobile testing units, workshops and symposia presenting global perspectives of the pandemic held at the John Wooden Center, and a performance called "Mourning Dances" at the Glorya Kaufman Hall.

In addition to bringing together American and African cultures through music and art, this year's World AIDS Day united several different groups on and off campus "for such a worthy cause," said Kathleen Rooney, a fourth-year anthropology student.

At the rally, students from organizations manned tables offering a variety of information about HIV/AIDS.

Students also initiated a call-in drive to convince local, state and national legislators to allocate more funding for the development of microbicides, a topical treatment that prevents the spread of HIV without the use of condoms.

In the wake of the UC-wide AIDS Research Program released Wednesday, which estimated that over 150,000 Californians are currently living with the disease, many people voiced concern about the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.

"It's scary. It's always been a distant problem in Africa that you hear about, but now it's come to the home front," said Britta Grayman, a first-year English student. Grayman planned to get tested for HIV for the first time, even though she did not consider herself at risk.

"Sometimes we just don't want to see what frightens us," said Quinn Beckham, a member of CharityTreks, an organization that puts on a 425-mile bike ride each year to raise money for AIDS research. Beckham tested positive for HIV 10 years ago, but credited successful education and research campaigns in the past that "allow (him) to be here today."

"It's really neat that the UCLA AIDS Institute doesn't just do medical research, but it also involves the students," he said. "They're trying to change a generation – that's where it starts. We have to protect our kids, our youth."

Derrick Nichols, a third-year world arts and cultures student, believes many college students don't perceive HIV/AIDS as a problem: "(Many students) think they're invincible, but there are a lot of students on campus that are (HIV-positive) that you may not even realize."

Nichols has friends who are HIV-positive, and said there is still a stigma surrounding the disease that may discourage people from talking about it with others.

Some students feel that events promoting education, such as World AIDS Day, help to correct misconceptions.

"The more awareness there is, the less stigmatized the disease becomes," said Shadi Yaghoubian, a fourth-year physiological science student and volunteer at the UCLA Mobile Clinic, which offers free health care, including HIV testing, to homeless people.

While the purpose of the World AIDS Day "I Know" and "Knowledge is Power" campaign was to inform the public, a few students saw a need to take things further.

Harsh Shah, a second-year communication studies student, said there is a lack of student force on major issues, and though there were more people at the rally than he expected, more must be done on both local and national levels.

Ragani Sarma, third-year biology student and director of the AIDS Awareness Committee, agreed.

"It takes students like us ... to actually go out and become activists," Sarma said.

With reports from Derek Lipkin, Bruin senior staff.

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