Living and loving in a world with AIDS

The lecture room in CEER Hall was awkwardly silent, peppered with uncomfortable giggles and whispers of apprehension on Monday, October 3 as Ms. Elaine Pasqua presented to the Villanova student body on “Living and Loving in a World with AIDS.”

Pasqua began her presentation with a simulation of how easily and silently the HIV virus spreads. She had each student take a cup of water, but did not inform the crowd that some of their peers knowingly had cups containing sodium hydroxide (representing the HIV virus). The students then exchanged fluids with three other people, simulating sexual intercourse. After the “sexual interaction,” Pasqua tested the cups for sodium hydroxide. Tension filled the air as students watched their cups turn pink, wondering which of their three partners had given them the disease and regretting their choice to share. Pasqua asked for student reactions and the room echoed with responses of “mad,” “surprised,” and from those who escaped the disease, “lucky.”

Pasqua used this simulation to illustrate the anticipation of being tested, the effect of a split-second decision, and the fact that infected people do not wear a warning label or use their disease as part of their pick-up line.

The buzz created by Pasqua’s simulation quickly died down as she went on to explain her relationship to the HIV/ AIDS virus. Pasqua bravely and effectively shared that in 1989 her mother and stepfather were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS due to her step-father’s participation in a clinical drug trial involving human plasma. She described the excruciating agony of waiting to find out if her parents had truly been handed a life sentence by a disease that, at the time, was considered a predominantly homosexual, and therefore shameful, disease. Due to the stigma surrounding the virus her parents decided to keep their illness a secret. Pasqua obliged and spent the next six years caring for her parents and witnessing their demise at the hand of the AIDS. She shared a video of her mother’s one year transition from a flush and lovely woman to a sickly shell of a human body. Pasqua’s openness with the crowd wasdefinitely a winning technique, as everyone was touched and moved by her willingness to share such a personal memory with the sole intention of improving the quality of life for future generations.

As students sat and attempted to process the frightening reality of the AIDS virus, Pasqua offered her advice on avoiding and preventing the transmission of AIDS/HIV. She encouraged students to set goals and to use them as incentives for saying “no.”

She also mentioned the scary statistic that one in four people have an STD, meaning that to consent to unprotected sex is a much bigger gamble than most students seem to think. Most STDs, including the HIV/AIDS virus, are initially undetectable to the unknowing person. HIV symptoms don’t surface until ten years after infection, meaning that a person may not even suspect that they have it.

All of this uncertainty makes unprotected sex and the high risk behaviors that lead to it an uneducated decision.

Elaine Pasqua’s parents have a panel in the AIDS Quilt, which will be coming to Villanova later this semester. She encourages everyone to visit the quilt, guaranteeing an emotional experience. Each panel is the size of a grave, representing the deaths caused by AIDS.

Elaine Pasqua presents at about 60 colleges a year, using her own knowledge and experiences to educate students about high-risk behaviors, personal empowerment and making healthy choices.