"Disease of the AIDies"

The Union College AIDS Committee, 1986-1994

A pamphlet, printed on light blue paper, about the Fourth Annual AIDS Awareness Week at Union, held in November of 1990. The top of the pamphlet reads: "Union College hosts Living With AIDS," followed by a drawing done by a child of a sun and five stick figures, three of which are labeled: "me," "my sister," and "mom." Underneath the drawing, the pamphlet reads: "The Fourth AIDS Awareness Week - A Series of lectures, workshops and community events on the Union campus and other Schenectady locations - Sunday, Nov. 4 through Friday, Nov. 9."

A pamphlet, printed on pink paper, about the Sixth Annual AIDS Awareness Week at Union, held in October of 1992. The top of the pamphlet reads: "Union College hosts The Sixth Annual AIDS Awareness Week." This is followed by a pencil drawing signed by Michelle Valoy that features a map containing North America, South America, Greenland, Europe, Africa, and Asia in the background, and two people embracing in the foreground. The people both have the intersex symbol where their faces should be, their torsos come together to morph into a giant needle, indicating unsafe drug use, and each are using one hand to throw a condom into a garbage can, indicating risky sexual behavior. After the drawing, the text reads: "Changing Behvaiors: Students at Risk - Monday, Oct. 19 through Friday, Oct. 23, 1992."



HIV and AIDS related research and education was spearheaded at Union College primarily by faculty in the Biology Department from a public health lens.

The Union College AIDS Committee was formed in 1986 and co-chaired by Professors Twitty J. Styles and Karen N. Williams of the Biology Department.

For eight consecutive years, the AIDS Committee held an "AIDS Awareness Week," which engaged both the Union community and members of the broader Schenectady community. 

Styles and Williams also devoted their efforts to collecting a wide variety of nationally and internationally produced media, including academic papers, newspaper clippings, posters, photographs, brochures, and pamphlets, to disseminate among members of the Union community. These materials focused on many different topics, as they were designed to dispel widely held misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and provide people with accurate information and education. These materials also targeted many different social groups, including women, people of color, lesbians, and heterosexual people. 


While the prolific and diversified materials that were collected and disseminated by the AIDS Committee indicates that their work on campus was well-intentioned, their records also reveal that the Committee’s events did not always avoid entrenched norms, stereotypes, and prejudices. Snippets of a November 1990 letter sent from an “AIDS educator... [with] a background in ethics” to Styles and Williams indicate that there was a talk that took place during the Fourth Annual AIDS Awareness Week, held in 1990, which stigmatized LGBTQ+ identities and shared false information. The identity of the sender of the letter, as well as the person the sender is commenting on (the speaker), have been left anonymous because the most important thing to notice from this letter is not the individual people involved in this scenario, but rather the way the letter reveals dominant cultural attitudes and biases. 

The front of the letter sent to Twitty J. Styles and Karen N. Williams on November 12, 1990, expressing concerns about one of the talks from the College's Fourth Annual AIDS Awareness Week. The name of the person who gave the talk in question has been redacted. 

The back of the letter sent to Styles and Williams. Both the name of the speaker of the talk in question, and the name of the sender of the letter, have been redacted.



I left this lecture angry and very concerned about the information that Union College students are receiving about HIV and AIDS and more concerned about the biases and attitudes that are being conveyed by people who are seen as the 'experts.'



From my perspective, [the] lecture was neither ethical nor accurate about HIV and AIDS. [The speaker] gave inaccurate information and misrepresented facts about HIV and AIDS. [The speaker's] bias against gays and lesbians and IV drug users was blatant. He stated that AIDS came into the U.S. through one gay male airline steward who knew he had AIDS, and spread it through sexual contact with people in four major cities. 



[The speaker] also stated that only 'the gays and IV drug users' were at risk for HIV infection and if you were not one of them, then you virtually were at no risk. Homophobia was rampant - - starting the lecture with reading the Supreme Court decision in the Hartwick case upholding Georgia's sodomy laws, and blaming 'the gays' for bringing AIDS into the country.



[The speaker] also implied that our civil rights protections and confidentiality regulations allow AIDS to continue to spread. [The speaker] spoke of contact tracing, keeping names, and 'isolating' people so that they cannot infect others. [The speaker] made inaccurate and exaggerated statements about the risk of health care professionals for HIV infection because of confidentiality laws ... The list could go on. 



I believe that this type of presentation is dangerous. It does not belong in a program that is advertised as AIDS Awareness Week. I came expecting to hear a challenging discussion on the real ethical concerns around HIV and AIDS, but one that would leave people with less fear and anxiety and with more openness and compassion for those who are infected. The opposite happened.


A rainbow colored pamphlet with white block lettering that reads "Diseases that Can Be Spread Through Sex."

The headline of a piece entitled "Disease of the AIDies" that was published in the Concordiensis on January 23, 1986 about HIV/AIDS risk. 

An excerpt from "Disease of the AIDies." The author claims that “the good news for most people is that the incidence of AIDs outside these risk groups [which the author previously stated were ‘sexually active homosexual and bisexual men, intravenous drug users, Haitians, hemophiliacs, and people who have received blood transfusions’] is approximately one in a million.”

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