06/03/2011 04:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

College Students Reflect On 30 Years Of HIV/AIDS

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By: Asha Richardson

A lot has changed since the eighties. Or so I'm told. I wasn't born until 1991 -- the same year Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV. I'm 19 now, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard people joke that Magic Johnson discovered the cure to AIDS... money.

Katherine Hood knows the same joke. She's a senior at UC Berkeley and has grown up knowing about the disease her whole life. Regardless of the jokes, we both know HIV is still a deadly serious. "I think it's interesting because while I don't think it's the same sort of death sentence mentality," says Hood, "To me if I actually stop and think about it, it still seems like a horrifying thought."


Photo Credit: Physicians for Human Rights

Hood and lots of kids we talked to say their school Sex Ed classes were pretty good. Thanks to my school's health classes, I had seen a condom by the 7th grade and knew what it was for. My mom even bought me a book called Deal With It. I remember my friends coming over after school to giggle about stick figure illustrations of sexual positions.

Sex and STDs weren't a mystery for me, but that's not the experience had by some students, like UC Berkeley senior Tori Partridge. She explains, "I went to this little private Catholic school and our Sex Ed was basically 'Hey these are the diseases you can get. Don't have sex.' So I just sort of went into this world unprepared."

The benefit of being in my generation is that we can turn to Google for answers. But no amount of research can prepare a person to ask their sexual partner if they've been tested. Nicki Ghafari is sitting at a food court in downtown Berkeley with friends. They graduated from a local Catholic high school just last Sunday, and are headed to college this fall. Ghafari knows they're supposed to ask about their partner's sexual heath, but the idea still makes her uncomfortable. "If you ask someone, it's like they're dirty in a way, like they're gross," she says, "personally I feel like whoever you're with, you should ask."

At Laney College in downtown Oakland, junior Salvador Lopez has a little more experience with this situation. He says he wasn't afraid to have the conversation with his sexual partner, "It wasn't awkward. They just shot the question right back, and I was like 'I'm good.' These are questions you still have to ask, no matter how comfortable you are with one another, just to be safe."

My friend Elizabeth Welsh, a junior at Mills College wants to be safe, but she feels like the talk around prevention never includes her. Welsh is a lesbian who isn't embarrassed to admit that she has, "a lot of unprotected sex." She says, "I talk about aids and I'm informed, but at the same time I'm not using a condom in my sex. So what am I going to do? You think about it and the fears there are but how do you get passed that." Welsh thinks prevention is mainly geared towards straight people and gay men.

No matter who you are, the saddest part about getting tested for HIV today, is that you're not only worried about your test results, but you're still terrified about what people might say, as least that the case for me. David Villamarina, a student at Laney College, agrees. "People get made fun of for having an STD or STI. People are judged."

While treatments have progressed dramatically in the last 30 years, Villamarina says that society is hung up on wrong things. "We will want to be more focused on what we can do to stop it, instead of who has it. It's not about the people who already got it. The people who already got it, they got it."

That's today anyway. My hope is that 30 years from now, people who "got it," won't have it forever.

This story also appeared on NPR's All Things Considered.
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