Cold hands cupped flickering candles as students, faculty and community members walked from Lovett Auditorium to the Curris Center to raise awareness about the ongoing struggle against HIV and AIDS.
The AIDS walk, one of several Red Week events sponsored by Murray State’s LGBT Programming as well as the gender and diversity studies department, was attended by less than 50 people. The event began at Lovett Monday night at 6:15 p.m. LGBT Program Coordinator Jody Cofer Randall, sporting a red coat and a red AIDS awareness ribbon, addressed the crowd before the walk began. He spoke about the dream of an AIDS-free generation, and what those before him could do to work toward that dream.
“While the science community continues to explore better medications for those living with HIV and attempts to find the cure that we all know is within reach, the rest of us, well, we can work to end the stigma and discrimination targeted towards those living with this disease,” Cofer Randall said.
As Cofer Randall spoke, candles were distributed throughout the crowd, and when he finished, the candles were lit, to be held as people walked across campus.
Last week, Facilities Management covered the lights along the main strip of campus with red gel paper. Those red lights illuminated the quiet marchers with an eerie glow as they passed underneath them on the way to the Curris Center.
One student who participated in the walk was Blake Johnson, sophomore from Benton, Ky. A criminal justice major with emphasis on narcotics, Johnson said he thinks AIDS awareness is something that needs attention, especially with heightened drug use in the western Kentucky region.
“It is a plague, like they said, but it’s something our generation tries to kick under the table,” he said.
Johnson said he participated in the event because he wanted to be a part of something important, and that he believes the campus should be more aware of this issue.
Murray State Alliance had good member turnout at the AIDS Walk, one member in attendance being Morgan Randall, a senior from Murray. Randall, involved with Alliance since 2008, said she has been participating in this walk every year it has been held since 2009.
Randall said she believes the walk is important in teaching people that this issue has not gone away. She said she thinks Murray State is doing a good job with HIV/AIDS awareness, but there is always room for improvement.
“I think (the AIDS walk) is a small step to open some doors to people, and then those people will open more doors to those around them, and start the conversation,” Randall said.
The AIDS walk concluded outside the Curris Center with a moment of silence. As the candles were all blown out, people began heading to the Curris Center theater for the second part of the night’s activities, a showing of the documentary film, “How to Survive a Plague.”
The film was the story of a few crucial members of the HIV/AIDS activist group ACT UP and the work they did in the 1980s and ‘90s to make medication more readily available to those living with HIV or AIDS.
Joshua Adair, assistant professor in the department of english and philosophy and coordinator of the gender and diversity studies department, played a big role in making the movie showing happen. Adair said he believed the event was a good start for AIDS awareness on campus, but he hopes to expand Red Week next year to get more students involved.
“So many young people don’t realize this is still an issue, so I think it’s really important that we raise awareness,” he said.
Adair said he was surprised to learn how many cases of HIV/AIDS there are in Kentucky, and he said studies have shown the southern region of the United States has the highest growth rate of the disease in the country.
“When I was talking about this event to one of my classes, one of my students said, ‘We haven’t cured that yet?’ That’s a perfect reason to have this,” he said.
Story by Kate Russell, Photography Editor