The Realities of HIV/AIDS Series Part 1: The AIDS Quilt

AIDS Memorial Quilt, MA Panel

Two of the more than 48,000 panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt commemorating the life of someone who has died of AIDS were on display on the Medical Campus September 7, in conjunction with the SPH Dean’s Forum 1985: Voices from the AIDS Crisis.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is a powerful visual reminder of the AIDS pandemic, a time in our recent past that should never be forgotten or taken for granted. Activist Lab staff member Emily Barbo took a moment to reflect on her experience with the Quilt: “Before I started working at the Activist Lab I actually had never heard of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. But as part of the team that made this event happen, that changed very quickly. The photographs of the Quilt displayed on the National Mall in DC are iconic but don’t do it justice. When the Quilt finally arrived on campus I was part of the set-up crew. Seeing those panels emerge from the box was surprisingly emotional for me. And the Quilt’s purpose suddenly because so real–these are the cherished memories of the people left in the wake of death and devastation. I think what touched me the most were the moments of joy I found in the details. Sharing a nickname, the photographs, inside jokes, and friendship bracelets. I have all of these things for people in my life, too.”

A memorial, a tool for education, and a work of art, the quilt is a unique creation, an extraordinary response to the tragic loss of human life that elegantly framed the conversation that also took place that morning, remembering the early days of the crisis.

AIDS Quilt
Photo by Cydney Scott

Moderated by Dean Cox, a panel of health professionals embroiled in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis spoke to the SPH community about their still-vivid memories of stigma and fear that permeated the 1980s as well as figures of hope and inspiration.

Panelists included:

Gary Bailey, Professor of Practice, Director Urban Leadership Program, Simmons School of Social Work
Pat Daoust, Director of Nursing for Global Health, Massachusetts General Hospital Lawrence Summers
Alfred DeMaria, Jr. Medical Director, Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences and State Epidemiologist, Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Andrew Fullem, Associate Director, International Division and Director, Center for HIV, John Snow, Inc.
Nancy E. Norman, Medical Director of Integration, Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership

Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel, Chaplain to the University closed the event with the reading of names of those who have died, moments of quiet reflection punctuated by quotations upon which the audience was invited to reflect.

One of the common threads these narratives shared was that when witnessing the discrimination of people suffering from HIV, often to the detriment of their health, the panelists took action and found ways to make a difference. Members of the audience shared some of their own stories from those early days, recalling the polarization and how the fear of the unknown not only shaped and defined social circles but also individual relationships.

The Realities of HIV/AIDS: A Three Part Series will continue throughout the semester.