GVSU to host guest speaker, HIV testing for World AIDS Day

| 11/27/17 2:01am
GVL / Sara Carte Eric Paul Leue presents “How to Survive End A Plague” for World AIDS day in the Kirkhof building on Dec. 1.

Since 1988, Dec. 1 has been recognized as World AIDS Day. This year, Grand Valley State University is participating in the event in a few ways, including by providing free HIV testing and presenting a keynote speech from LeSherri James. The day serves both as a commemoration of the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and an opportunity to educate the public about the virus.

Multiple offices on campus are working together to host this event, including Campus Interfaith Resources, Disability Support Resources, the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center. 

“We join partners from around the world in observing World AIDS Day as an opportunity to show support for people living with HIV, to educate about new developments around HIV treatment and prevention, and to fight the stigma associated with HIV,” said Jen Hsu-Bishop, director of the LGBT Resource Center, who helped plan the day's events.

James, the keynote speaker, works with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago as a mobile engagement team member and HIV advocate. She has battled with HIV herself and the issues that often come along with it, such as poverty, trouble accessing affordable care and negative social stigma. 

“LeSherri James brings a wealth of experience, personal and professional, regarding HIV education and advocacy,” Hsu-Bishop said. “The World AIDS Day planning committee is excited for students to hear her story and learn more about HIV in our communities.”

James’ story has been shared by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, as well as the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Her personal account of her struggle—and triumph—aims to inspire and educate while also shedding light on the lack of available knowledge and care available to women with HIV. 

“My story of being connected to quality case management and health care shouldn’t be unique,” James wrote in a blog for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. “It should be the story of every woman living with HIV. All women living with HIV have the right to such support and care.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV, and roughly 14 percent of those individuals do not know they are affected. Even though the most recently available data suggests that overall annual infection rates are in decline, it’s still an issue that demands action and attention.

The free testing provided Friday, Dec. 1, will be available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Rooms 1247 and 1249, and will be administered by the Kent County Health Department. The testing is completely confidential. 

“For some people, talking about HIV may be difficult,” Hsu-Bishop said. “I’m excited for students to have the opportunity to hear and learn from LeSherri.”

James, who has worked at the AIDS Foundation for nine months, is very passionate about the opportunity as well. 

“More than anything, I want students to get tested,” she said. “HIV is real, and people are still contracting it. I want people to be aware of that.” 

Committee members are eagerly anticipating her arrival. Hsu-Bishop said her main goal for the event is educating the students at GVSU. 

“We can all have a role in educating ourselves, our friends and our community about HIV,” she said. “We can be part of the solution to eliminate stigma and increase access to care.” 

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