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Students feel compelled for change in “History of AIDS” class

Students learn about the historical and societal impact of HIV/AIDS in this annual special project.
Students engage in specialized classes and topics that most interest them during the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts’ (LSMSA) annual Special Projects Week.

The “History of AIDS” project, taught by Senior Lecturer of Mathematics Jennifer Mangum and Lecturer of Biology Jason Anderson, took an in-depth look at the AIDS epidemic. Magnum offered this special project several years ago, with Anderson later accompanying her as co-lecturer.

“I have always felt that teaching about HIV and AIDS was important because this generation does not know how this virus impacted and changed the world,” expressed Anderson. “I began teaching HIV as a special topics chapter in my Genetics class, focusing on the science of the virus. When Jennifer asked me to join her for her project, I knew it would be a perfect fit.”

Throughout the project, students learn about the comprehensive effects of the disease, drawing from pamphlets, advertisements, theatrical and documentary films, and even popular music. They are engaged in both the historical and social ramifications of the illness as the project dives deep into racial, religious, and socio-economic influences and consequences. The second half of the class focuses heavily on the disease’s impact in the African-American community.

For the past few years, Gary Cathey, a founding member of AIDS advocacy group ACT UP Shreveport, and Shreveport filmmakers David Hylan and Raydra Hall served as guest speakers to the project and have offered students a chance to view their film “Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South,” a documentary following the history of ACT UP Shreveport and victims of the AIDS crisis in the Northwest Louisiana area. The viewing is followed by a Q&A session with the speakers.

During presentations, Cathey spoke of Doug Sanford, an individual who had lost his battle to AIDS. Because of societal influences and connotations associated with AIDS, no one attended his funeral. Cathey felt compelled to tell others of his story because it painted a picture of society and their mistreatment of those who were suffering from the disease.

“Doug symbolizes people who are hurting today,” said Cathey during one of his presentations to students.

This year, students gifted him an AIDS Memorial Quilt panel in honor of Sanford. The AIDS Memorial Quilt project, which started in the 1980s, began as a way to commemorate individuals who lost their battle to the disease. The quilt currently includes more than 48,000 panels.

The students’ panel has been an ongoing project headed by three LSMSA students, recent graduates Milla Reddick and Clara Colterman and current senior Colt Crain.
           
“We just loved how you carry on Doug’s story and his memory,” expressed Reddick, in an address to Cathey. “We made this because we wanted to share the responsibility with you and help keep it moving forward.”
           
“I never would have thought a documentary screening in the recital hall could lead to all of this, but I have never felt more blessed,” stated Colterman, in a letter read aloud by Magnum during the gifting of the panel. “I only hope my one year of 4-H quilting can help maintain Doug’s memory. Just know that I will never forget him.”

“This is very special, and you are all very precious to me,” said Cathey after receiving the panel. “Thank you for remembering him. Also remember though that you have a voice. Change the world.”

While the subject matter can be heavy for participating students, many are able to gain a clearer picture on the effects of the disease, both in the past as well as the present.

“They learn about a different era of America and how marginalized populations dealt with a global pandemic,” stated Anderson. “They also leave the class understanding the etiology of HIV and AIDS, which they know is still prevalent today, but can be managed only through early detection.”
           
For more information on LSMSA, visit www.LSMSA.edu.
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