Quilt of many colors

By on April 17, 2007

“This is the safest sex you will ever have in your life,” Elaine Pasqua said to a small crowd in Alumni Hall April 10 at an interactive lecture following an annual two-day AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibit.

Pasqua, who is the president of Project Prevention, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide AIDS prevention education, asked students to mix small cups together in a symbolic demonstration of how easily HIV is transferred.

Emulating a chemistry experiment, cups were filled with water while three unidentified cups of sodium hydroxide infiltrated the group. Students were instructed to “have sex” with three other people by mixing their fluids together to symbolize how the virus can be spread. Students anxiously waited in line to see if their cups would test positive for HIV, or in this case turn pink, with a drop of phenolphaline. Initially only three cups of the 25 were “infected,” but this number ballooned to 19 before the demonstration was over.

Michelle Lapointe, a freshman veterinary technology major, said even though the exercise was a demonstration, she was perturbed when her cup turned pink. “You think it’s never going to happen to you. I was shocked when it did. I swear, I saw my life flash before my eyes,” she said.

The exhibit and lecture were sponsored by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), a Quinnipiac organization. According to James Kay, the treasurer, the quilt display received a “steady flow of people.” Group members were disappointed by the small turnout for Tuesday’s lecture, but Pasqua did not let that stop her from conducting a powerful demonstration. She mixed raw emotion with cheeky humorous displays like a “masturbation song” and other innovative tips for safe sex.

But the lecture was not all fun and games. Pasqua lost both her mother and stepfather to AIDS and vowed to spread education and prevention by speaking at many colleges and universities to tell her story.

Her stepfather was a test subject for a drug called interferon, which was believed to treat hepatitis. The blood supply was contaminated with the HIV, and in 1979 and 1980, no one knew to be cautious of it. “He unknowingly contracted HIV and unknowingly passed it on to my mother,” she said.

Using a big screen Pasqua shared home videos of her mother to convey the rapidly deteriorating symptoms that she called “the wasting syndrome.” Pasqua’s mother quickly became tired, spacey and confused. She died at age 64.

On June 20, 1995, Pasqua made the panel for the AIDS quilt. She made it on her mother’s sewing machine and created the view from her living room with her picture and a dogwood tree in the background. “You found yourself crying for people you didn’t even know, it was so powerful,” Pasqua said of the ceremony.

Each section of the quilt is three feet by six feet in size and symbolically represents the person who has died. It was last pieced together in 1996 in Washington D.C., but has grown too big to stay whole. It was founded in 1987 and remains to be one of the longest community arts project in the world.

Charity Stout, a former president of SADD, said that when the quilt is on display it is “really moving.” She told a story of a family who drove to Quinnipiac from New Jersey two years ago to see the panel of a family member. They arrived late and the quilt had already been put into boxes, but they were brought back out for the family. Stout described the experience as “extremely emotional.”

The purpose of the AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibit is to raise awareness and education. James Kay said it is more of a domestic issue than people realize. “There are more cases of AIDS in the U.S. than we are aware of,” he said. “Twenty-six million died in Africa alone, but here, you wouldn’t think of it as a prevalent issue.” Approximately 40,000 new cases of HIV infections occur in the United States each year.

The New Haven AIDS Walk will take place Sunday at 2 p.m. The money will go to local HIV/AIDS treatment centers. For more information on AIDS prevention and education, visit www.elainepasqua.com or www.aidsquilt.org.


About Alysis Richardson