Be aware, get tested, then party


Story by Andy Hildebrand, Staff Writer

One out of every four people infected don’t even know they have it. Last year, 285 new cases were diagnosed in the state of Wisconsin alone. In Eau Claire County, over 50 cases have been confirmed.
HIV/AIDS is a deadly disease, especially when left untreated, which is why students at UW-Eau Claire have partnered with the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin and members of the community to raise awareness
of the disease.
Emily Wievel is a prevention specialist at Eau Claire’s AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin office. She said awareness is something the Eau Claire community is sorely lacking.
“We have a very open community,” Wievel said. “But because it’s not an urban community, it’s not viewed as a concern. The thing is, we are very close to those urban communities.”
That’s why, in honor of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Scooter’s, an Eau Claire tavern that caters to the LGBTQ community, will host an event offering free HIV testing paired with a night full of celebration.
The Red Ribbon Affair as it’s been titled will feature games, prizes and performances by drag queens in addition to the free testing.
The goal of the event is to not only provide HIV tests to as many people as possible, but also to increase awareness throughout the community. Students from Eau Claire’s womens’ studies capstone course organized the event as part of their semester-long project.
Senior Tiffany Root is one of the students who helped put the event together.
“It’s the culmination of all of our work throughout the semester,” Root said. “We built off the work of past capstone classes, but decided this year that having a community-wide event could have much more impact.”
For Root, the project is about more than earning school credit though. It’s a cause she really believes in.
“Knowing your own body and detecting it early means you’re getting treatment early,” Root said. “That’s really huge to both yourself and your sexual partners.”
Wievel and her colleagues at the AIDS Resource Center worked closely with the capstone class to organize the event. To Wievel, events like this one represent the potential to spread the word about AIDS.
“Events like the one at Scooter’s help raise community awareness and that’s a really great thing,” Wievel said. “That’s the best thing you can do. Not everyone will listen, but the people who do will spread the message. It is here in our area and it’s not going away.”
The Womens’ Studies capstone class isn’t the only campus involvement regarding World AIDS Day though. UWEC Advocates for Choice took their own approach to raising awareness.
Katrina Leonard, president of the group, organized two days on campus where students could either create their own sign advocating AIDS awareness or pose with one already prepared by the group.
After a picture is taken, it will be displayed all around campus. World AIDS Day presented the group with a great opportunity to support a cause they think is very important. For Leonard, it boils down to something as simple as piece of mind.
“It’s so important to yourself and to your partner,” Leonard said. “It’s scary if you don’t know, but when you find out that you’re negative, it’s a really amazing feeling.”
The Red Ribbon Affair will begin at 9 p.m. at Scooter’s.