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USF honors victims during AIDS Day event

USF students and staff honored the many who have died from and are still living with the AIDS virus during a ceremony dedicating several USF AIDS panels to a nationally renowned project Friday.

The ceremony was part of World AIDS Day. USF celebrates World AIDS Day annually to promote awareness of the growing epidemic.

A former USF HIV/AIDS committee first created mock panels in 1997 to create its own quilt modeled after the nationally recognized NAMES Project quilt, founded in 1987. However, the USF quilts specifically honor those who are living with AIDS rather than remembering those who have died from the disease.

Eventually, a few student organizations and academic departments contributed a total of 123 panels to the USF project.

One panel, created by the Campus Activities Board, contains the caption: “A smile for those with courage, and one more for those with fear. A memory forever kept for those no longer here.”

This past summer, Jeff Thur, a member of the board of governors for the NAMES project, visited the USF bookstore and discovered the panels decorating the store.

“I found the manager, and it took some strong-arming, but I wanted them to be contributed to the 45,000 other panels,” Thur said.

So on Friday, 16 of those panels became part of the NAMES Project quilt as a traveling display to educate and commemorate the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“The panels were meant to go to the NAMES Project, and now it has found its home,” said Penny Philips, co-founder of the former USF HIV/AIDS committee.

An additional USF panel was also on display, which commemorated the life of local author Joan Nelson’s son who died in 1996. The panel featured a ship that sailed the rainbow flag. The selected USF panels were formally enfolded by placing them on top of the already existing panels.

“These are the future leaders,” Thur said about the nearby crowd of students. “They need to know the truth about AIDS.”

Several student organizations promote AIDS awareness year round, such as the REACH committee, which distributes condoms and provides information on AIDS and HIV on campus.

“People need to know the stats,” said Jessica Sabage, a senior majoring in mass communications and member of the REACH committee. “Tampa Bay has more AIDS cases than 20 states. Many college students don’t think (AIDS) will affect them because they aren’t gay and don’t live in Africa.”

All 45,000 NAMES Project panels can be accessed through an online database, including those added from USF. The remainder of the original panels will remain on display in the USF Bookstore.