Ramapo commemorates World AIDS Day with gallery display

World AIDS Day has been commemorated on Dec. 1 every year since 1988. It was the first of its kind as an international day dedicated to remembering and honoring those who have been affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “Let Communities Lead” was this year’s theme because “change depends not on a moment but on a movement,” according to the UNAIDS website

In honor of World AIDS Day, the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services invited Edge NJ to come to campus to offer free HIV testing. They provided education about HIV/AIDS and how to access PrEP, an HIV prevention drug. 

A mobile testing unit parked in the Grove last Thursday conducted 20-minute rapid tests. The event saw a turnout double that of last year with 36 students who took advantage of the free testing. 

“HIV doesn’t have a specific demographic that it solely affects,” said Caitlin Dolch, Edge NJ’s intake care coordinator and member of their prevention team. “Anybody of any gender, of any creed, anybody could get HIV.”

Edge NJ continues to offer free HIV testing at their various pop-up locations and at their new work-in-progress location. Their website has more information about where and how to receive testing.

“No one’s going to force you to do it but because it’s so accessible, there’s no reason not to do it,” said senior global communications major Allison Steele.

About 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV and at least 13% are unaware that they have the virus, according to HIV.gov. The HIV/AIDS epidemic also disproportionately affects certain racial and ethnic demographics as well as the LGBTQ+ community, leading to stigma surrounding the disease. 

“Usually it is the LGBTQ community, specifically people who are transgender or who are gay who are the people at higher risk for getting HIV,” said Dolch. “Just because they don’t often have access to a lot of the healthcare and prevention methods for HIV.”

This past Friday, the Women’s Center displayed AIDS quilt blocks provided by the National AIDS Memorial for World AIDS Day. Two eight-paneled quilts hung on the walls of the Kresge Gallery with contributions by friends, family and community members of New Jersey residents who have died from HIV/AIDS. 

Human rights activist, author and lecturer Cleve Jones had the idea for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt after organizing a march in 1985 to honor the assassinations of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. 

Jones then learned about the number of deaths in San Francisco due to AIDS at the time and combined his efforts to also commemorate them. This then evolved into the NAMES Project that still collects and sews together quilted tiles that memorialize those who have died from AIDS. 

Adjunct professor and Edge NJ’s Director of Prevention Services Ricardo Salcido was invited to speak at the reception. In 1995, Salcido was diagnosed with HIV and is now a hospice survivor dedicated to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Salcido prefaced his story by reading the poem “Bones” by Mary Oliver. He then shared about coming to terms with his identity as a gay man, his time in a hospice care center dedicated to people dying of AIDS, his brother who passed away due to AIDS and how his faith changed the trajectory of his life. 

“I have become an advocate, an educator, a working professional in the field of HIV/AIDS care and treatment,” said Salcido. “I was one of the lucky ones who was able to walk out of a facility, which helped me understand my sexuality and dignity on what I consider the quality of life.” 

Salcido ended his speech on a hopeful note, reflecting on his journey and the impact he has had on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He urged everyone to remember the lives affected by and lost to AIDS while also remembering the urgency to ending the epidemic. 

“This annual event serves as a reminder of the global struggles to end the HIV related stigma, an opportunity to honor those we have lost and time to come together again to renew our commitment to continue working together for a day when HIV is no longer a public threat,” said Salcido.



Additional reporting by Danielle Bongiovanni


Featured photo by Jessica Hammer