A Mixed Bag: World AIDS Day, Activism, and Politics

By Grace Wydeven

This past Saturday in White Gravenor there was a teach-in to educate students, faculty, and staff about productive and effective means of advocacy on college campuses. This event, closely juxtaposed to World AIDS day on December 1st, highlighted some major themes that have risen in relevance in the current political climate both in the United States and abroad. Throughout the day, people came to give talks and lead workshops about the best means to advocate for liberation.

In the context of World AIDS day, this event further emphasized the importance of activism and advocacy both on and off college campuses. Especially in light of the recent election, the way we mobilize to spark change has to be even more strategic. The overwhelming emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and rage that characterized the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s (which continues today) have also arisen due to the election results in November. This semester, in my Cultural Politics of HIV/AIDS class we have spoken about these emotions and the activism they inspire both in the past and in the present. After attending the teach-in yesterday and in the context of the current state of our country and the world, I have a new understanding of the importance of activism. As a student, a feminist, a woman, and even more simply as a person I cannot help but see activism as the link, the means of expression of these emotions, in times of great division, conflict, and hatred. 

As I sat in the event and listened to the talks and watched the demonstrations, I began to consider my role as a young female college student. Up until the election, I had felt very safe and insulated by the many bright, young, like-minded peers I have here at Georgetown. But on November 9th my entire outlook changed. The jarring results of the presidential election caught me totally off guard and served as a shocking wake up call to how much work we need to do as a country and as a community to move toward greater inclusion and unity in the face of hatred and division. 

As history shows, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the eighties was largely ignored by the “general” (but really not so “general”) population. Those who were not directly affected by the disease tended to ignore it, including members of the government. The moment I learned that Donald Trump was going to be our next U.S. president, I began to realize how insulated and complacent I had become, and quite frankly, how ignorant. I had not stopped and looked close enough at the people who were different from me in order to better understand their perspectives. 

Being surrounded by many like-minded individuals on a small college campus can be as dangerous as it is comforting. If this election has taught me anything, it is that complacency has no place in America. Neither does narrow-mindedness. As a young woman, I feel obligated to advocate for myself and for women at large, but also for people who I have trouble relating to, understanding, and communicating with. 

It is only through struggling that we can begin to make changes, both locally and universally. Activism can be as small as listening to your neighbor, and as large as creating a social movement, but no real change will come about through complacency and isolation.