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Students at HIV/AIDS Conference Post Experiences in Online Diary

Youth AIDS Diary, a Davidson College student project, is underway at the Global Village at the XIX International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., July 22-27.

Youth AIDS Diary logoDavidson students are posting videos of young people on the topic of AIDS around the world at Youth AIDS Diary. The posts are tagged onto a virtual globe with red ribbons, the international symbol of the fight against HIV/AIDS. The site also includes the class blog and Twitter feed.

The project began last semester in Professor of Biology David Wessner's "Biology of HIV/AIDS," when the international conference organizers invited the class to submit a proposal. The online diary was one of only 280 Global Village activities accepted for inclusion in the AIDS 2012 program out of over 1,000 submissions.

The Face of AIDS

"There's a need to put a face on what HIV is doing to the younger generation around the world," said Elene Clemens '13, one of 12 Davidson students who are in Washington this week.

The Davidson students, with help from high school students at Community School of Davidson, are posting videos directly from the AIDS 2012 Conference and the Global Village hall adjacent, which is open to the public. The diary site also includes a "share" feature for individual users to record and upload diary entries at their own computers.

"We wanted to capitalize on the technology that allows a public space, a safe space for everyone to contribute," said Betsy Gammon '14. She noted that some early videos express some American subjects' relative lack of knowledge or contact with the epidemic. "Those videos are as important to us as any of them."

"We're hoping the diary will help people get a better perspective that HIV/AIDS is a huge deal elsewhere in the world," said Adam Dulberger '13.

"I'm very proud of the work my students have done on this project," said Wessner. "Youth AIDS Diary will provide a wonderful snapshot of how HIV/AIDS affects the young people of the world. I'm especially excited that these Davidson College students and a group of high school students from the Community School of Davidson can attend AIDS 2012. It will be a transformative experience for all of them."

Translational Knowledge

Wessner's faculty colleague, Associate Professor of English Ann Fox, who specializes in disability studies, is also attending the conference. The pair teamed up last spring to teach a class titled "Representations of AIDS." That project grew out of a visit of a Wessner biology class to the 2009 campus art exhibit ReFormations: Disability, Women and Sculpture.

"We could both bring things to the table for the 'Representations of AIDS' class, and we had a great mix of students who were hungry for this kind of course," Fox said.

The Washington trip is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for students to learn from peers and researchers from around the globe, not only from scientific perspectives, but culturally, artistically, socially, anthropologically, linguistically... The list goes on of academic disciplines called into play.

Tasha Samborski '14 is a "translational sciences" major through Davidson's Center for Interdisciplinary studies. One can think of the "translational" paradigm as the next step beyond interdisciplinary, she said, and HIV/AIDS is a compelling case study in thinking both broadly and deeply.

"There's no way to approach it from just one aspect," Samborski said.

The students who created-and continue to create Youth AIDS Diary encourage Web viewers to bookmark and share the link, where they will continue to post fresh content from around the world during the conference and beyond.

"We hope it will take on a life of its own and be self-perpetuating," said Samborski.