By Gabrielle Fellows
YSUnity is holding a campus-wide event to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS on Tuesday.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., statewide, national and local organizations will set up tables in the common area of Kilcawley Center for an organization fair. There will be rape crisis center information, suicide prevention center information, free HIV testing in the James Gallery and general support and information for the LGBT community.
A candlelight vigil will be held from 4-5 p.m. at Tradition Rock with Youngstown State University campus minister, Garret White. The event will wrap up with a safe sex discussion from 5-7 p.m. in the Jones Room of Kilcawley Center.
Liza Ronquillo, vice president of YSUnity, said that the point of the entire event is to educate students about safe sex.
“We usually have a lot of safe sex talks and tables because it’s unbelievable how people are still uneducated on safe sex and diseases. Our work here is not done — education, awareness, that’s the whole point …” Ronquillo said. “When we educate and make people aware of the prevention tactics, we can make the world a little bit of a better place for those around us.”
YSUnity President Tim Bortner said that he thinks getting over the initial embarrassment of talking about safe sex is the first, and most effective, step in preventing disease and illness.
“There are a lot of people who are [nervous talking about safe sex] and asking for condoms. I’d rather people ask for them than not ask for them and then having unprotected sex and finding they’re HIV positive,” Bortner said. “When we first started giving condoms out, nobody wanted to take them from me. Now I’m pouring bowls of them into people’s book bags, because we have large Tupperware full of them. No worries, we have lots. As long as you’re using them, take them.”
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. The virus targets specific cells in the body called CD4 cells, which help the body fight disease and infection. AIDS is the final stage of HIV and is formed when the HIV virus goes untreated or undetected for too long in the body. At this stage, bodies are unable to properly fight infection and typically survive about three years after diagnosis.
According to AIDS.gov, while some people experience flu-like symptoms around two weeks after they contract HIV, many people experience no symptoms at all, and only begin to feel ill after their infection progresses toward AIDS.
While Ronquillo said she thinks education about HIV/AIDS is the main goal of YSUnity’s event, she also wants to focus attention on promoting safe sex.
“People feel ashamed or embarrassed. That’s why I just try to approach people, just like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about this?’ Just engage them in casual conversation, whether it’s safe sex, LGBT or World AIDS Day,” Ronquillo said. “I have a lot of fun just casually talking about things with people and educating them in a way that’s simple and fun. Talking about prevention and safe sex. That’s why we give out condoms. Keep yourself safe. One smart decision can keep you so safe.”
Bortner said that in addition to bringing free HIV/AIDS testing to campus, he’s also looking to bring free STD testing as well.
“I want to find a place that does free STD testing. Yes, you can get AIDS and HIV, but you can also get a bunch of other stuff,” Bortner said. “So, I want to find a place that will offer free testing for the other things to campus. That’s my goal next semester.”
Whether it be talking about rape, suicide, STDs or safe sex, Ronquillo said she and YSUnity as a whole want to keep talking about the sensitive subjects with and to students who have questions.
“We aren’t afraid to say, ‘OK, I hear someone has a question, send them to our organization.’ I’m always available for a conversation,” Ronquillo said. “You don’t even have to be a member, it’s just important to be in conversation with someone. Keep the conversation open.”