Red Alert: Loyola Students Raise HIV AwarenessBy Susan Gossling Walters
Meet the students of the millennium generation. They are today's young college men and women who bring a new sense of global awareness to much of what they do on campus. It's not a stretch for them to connect a global theme like hunger or HIV to multiple issues in their own communities. It's what they do. As a generation growing up with internet connectivity, they are born to network. And they don't stop there.
"If they can dream it, we can make it happen," says Kristin Witte, assistant director of campus ministry at Loyola University Maryland. "And they dream big."
These days, more than 100 students on 12 Catholic college campuses around the country are networking with Catholic Relief Services as official college ambassadors. In September, nine students from Loyola joined students from 11 other institutions, including The Catholic University of America, Siena College and Wheeling Jesuit University, for a daylong orientation and commissioning ceremony. They attended four presentations by CRS technical experts on pressing health and poverty issues in humanitarian development. On return to their respective colleges, the students drew up action plans based on what they had learned.
Liz Walton, Loyola class of 2013, explains: "We heard talks about hunger, migration, HIV and fair trade. HIV was the one that wasn't getting any attention on campus, so we picked that as a place to start. Then we went back to campus and reached out to other groups. People wanted to help," she says.
'Living Our Faith in Action'
And help they did. On December 1, in recognition of World AIDS Day, the millennium generation at Loyola University Maryland turned their campus red and got people's attention while building a new campuswide awareness of HIV.
They started in the early morning with a red ribbon tree ceremony. Wearing bright red shirts, they proceeded across campus and attached red streamers to stair railings, hung posters with bright red typefaces on entry doors and secured a 15-foot-tall red ribbon—the official symbol of World AIDS Day—in the center of the academic quadrangle.
The CRS ambassadors and their teams even turned the pedestrian bridge over Baltimore's Charles Street red by threading red tablecloths through the bridge's lattice work. Now, everyone traveling one of Baltimore's main thoroughfares is seeing the message.
"The goal was to raise awareness about HIV," says Witte, "but it actually did much more for the Loyola University community in Baltimore. It built bridges among the groups on campus. This is living our faith in action."
Evidence of their successful networking was apparent all over campus. The hundreds of red satin ribbons covering bushes around the central quad like flocks of tiny red birds were the handiwork of women from the Pre-Health program. Students from the Center for Community Service and Justice helped out and a "super fan" group got the basketball coaches to wear red ribbons during that day's game and also donated profits from their T-shirt sales to the cause.
Over at the student center during the lunchtime rush, Walton, her fellow CRS Ambassadors and representatives from the newly formed Loyola AIDS Awareness Coalition handed out red ribbons to passersby and invited them to have their photo taken holding a personal pledge about HIV. Many accepted.
Soon the walls and benches were covered with pledges to "Face HIV and AIDS." Signs read: "Facing HIV and AIDS for a cure," "…to break the silence" and "…by spreading awareness." Walton says the coalition will turn the photographs into a video to show at other events and on the college's student-run TV station.
"Because we're a Jesuit school, we want to the live the life we are teaching," says Witte. "Being a CRS College Ambassador and working on events like World AIDS Day offers us an opportunity to educate around issues our students are passionate about."
At day's end, students and faculty gathered for a candlelit evensong in the chapel. The evening's speaker was a student who was at her uncle's side when he died of AIDS. During her talk, she reminded her peers that disease and the need for medicines, a cure and awareness are bonds that connect all of us.
The university's Jesuit motto, "men and women for others and with others," was brought to life through the energy and spirit of Walton and her network.
"These students want to do something," says Witte. "And they feel they can make change happen anywhere and mobilize others everywhere. If there's something they don't know, they just Google it."
This is the millennium generation. Follow their lead. They are going places.
Susan Gossling Walters is CRS' communications officer covering the United States. She is based in Baltimore, Maryland.