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Jonathan Van Ness Speaks Out about Living with HIV, Highlights the Importance of Getting Tested

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            Reality TV star, queer rights advocate, and hair guru, Jonathan Van Ness, has come out recently, but most certainly not out of the closet.

In recent weeks, Jonathan Van Ness, made famous by the Netflix hit series “Queer Eye”, has released several statements surrounding their life with HIV, being an addict, and being sexually abused.

Ness’ decision to come out revolves around the release of their book “Over the Top”. Their book, which came out just last week, recounts several stories surrounding these aspects of their life.

“It’s hard for me to be as open as I want to be when there are certain things I haven’t shared publicly,” Van Ness stated in an interview.

            The interview, as well as the novel, shows a much more serious side of Van Ness that fans and media are not used to seeing. They discuss several traumatic experiences, such as being abused in Church as a child, deep-rooted self-esteem issues, drug use that would become an addiction, to now living with HIV.

             That the self-described “the effervescent, gregarious majestic center-part-blow-dry cotton-candy figure-skating queen” would share such personal news came as a shock to everyone. In an interview with CNN, Van Ness explains why they chose to do so before the book’s release.

            “Part of it is that I wanted to heal. And the other part of it is that, you know, living publicly and experiencing the success of ‘Queer Eye’ and experiencing this platform,” said Van Ness.

“We don’t grow when we are comfortable and I have had a lot of time to grow comfortable with my HIV status. I’ve had a long time to process and heal from the abuse that I endured in my life and I am ready to share it now.”

            Not long after this interview, Van Ness teamed up with Planned Parenthood to create a video on the importance of getting tested for STIs, and why protecting access to STI testing under Title X is vital. This partnership was inspired by the fact that Van Ness got their diagnosis at a Planned Parenthood.

            While Van Ness does have the type of fame that could draw attention to an issue such as this, many stereotypes and false claims about HIV out there do occur. Van Ness defies one of the most important ones to debunk: you can’t live a happy life with HIV.

            There is no denying that everyone’s favorite hair guru has been through a hard life, he is lively and glowing. HIV is no longer the death sentence like it was in the 80s.

There are medications and treatments that can increase the lifespan and quality of life for somebody with an HIV diagnosis. You can very much keep up your everyday life with some minor adjustments.

There is a lot of misunderstandings about how HIV and AIDS get transmitted from person to person. You can’t pass either through kissing, hugging, sharing food, insect bites, toilet seats, sneezing and/or coughing, or sweating.

You can only get it from passing bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, anal mucous, and breastmilk from person to another. Ways these bodily fluids can be passed from one person to another is through unprotected sex, through childbirth and breastfeeding (from mother to child, injecting drugs with needles that have the blood of a person with HIV or AIDS on it, and blood donations that are infected.

            The final misconception is the most important piece of information, not only to Van Ness’ story but to anyone living with HIV or AIDS. The two are different. People with HIV are not living with AIDS, though it could one day grow to that. There are three stages of HIV: Acute HIV infection, chronic HIV infection, and AIDS.

            Acute HIV infection has several symptoms that can be attributed to many things. These symptoms include headache, fatigue, aching muscles, sore throat, and a red rash that doesn’t itch.

If you have symptoms like these, it’s possible that you’ve been exposed to somebody with HIV in the past six weeks. If you have any of these symptoms, you may need to go to a doctor and get tested.

            Chronic HIV infection brings on a different experience. Once you enter this stage, this flu-like symptoms of acute HIV infection leave, and you will go through an asymptomatic stage that can last up to ten years.

It is pivotal in this stage to start taking medication, and as early on as possible. Without treatment, you become vulnerable to other infections.

AIDS is the final stage. Symptoms at this stage, if not medicated, and without a proactive lifestyle change in a previous stage, can include: swollen lymph nodes, a fever that lasts more than ten days, purple spots that don’t go away, and unexplained weight loss.

Without medication, a person at this stage can only live up to three years. The most important thing to remember about this stage is that with treatment you can live a long and happy life.

By: Madison Danielle Starr

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Coronavirus Epidemic Ends Study Abroad Students’ Semesters

Katherine Feinstein

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Coronavirus epidemic gets serious to the point that college students' study abroad programs come to an end.
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People all over the world are unpredictably affected by the newest Coronavirus and its implications.

More specifically, abroad students are finding themselves being sent home from their study programs. Having to cancel personal travel, and living in the uncertainty of how their semesters in Europe will end.

Coronavirus started as a blip on the radar of students preparing to embark on a four-month journey to study in Europe.

The first mysterious case emerged in Wuhan, China on December 31st,  2019. And millions of American university students packed their bags and flew to another hemisphere without any worry of this ‘random’ flu discovered so far away. 

Fast forward to January 30th, 2020- just one month later- and the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Though COVID-19 has symptoms paralleling that of the common flu (cough, fever, shortness of breath). And only has a death rate of 3.4%, the virus has uncontrollably spread. The shutdown travel has students living in Europe wondering, what now?

The countries currently most dangerous to travel to are China, with a whopping 80,703 cases. Italy, South Korea, Iran, and France are also a threat. But perhaps the most alarming aspect of this virus is how quickly it spreads.

Similar to other contagious viruses, COVID-19 spreads by human-to-human contact. Or by coming into contact with respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Thus, the increases in cases in countries with patients concentrated in quarantined areas are skyrocketing. Just within the last 24 hours,  Italy has 1,492 new cases and 250 new deaths. 

The Coronavirus map displays countries that are the most at risk for getting the virus.
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Alex, a Junior at the University of Michigan, had been studying abroad in Rome for just four weeks before Italy was declared a Level 3 Travel Advisory by the US State Department.

Almost immediately after Alex’s program was canceled and his home institution called for all students enrolled in programs in Italy to return to the US. This came as a shock to Alex and other students in his program, as Rome itself was not an area with many Coronavirus cases. 

“Almost no one was wearing masks, even when we visited the Vatican the day after the announcement. It all felt so surreal that we were really being sent home, even though Rome hadn’t changed at all,” he recalls.

Many students studying in Italy were feeling similarly. Other universities like Syracuse and Villanova had pulled their students from Europe before programs abroad had even canceled themselves. 

The next steps in these types of situations vary from school to school. But one thing is for sure: many students are left financially and academically devastated by abroad programs being abruptly canceled.

For Alex’s specific program in Rome, students will be finishing the semester through online courses. And will receive no compensation for the canceled $15,000 program. The epidemic has other serious implications such as economic recessions and discrimination towards Asian people. Abroad students’ pockets have certainly felt the blow of this unpredictable virus. 

Similarly, several typically cheap airlines used by many American students studying abroad. Such as Ryanair and EasyJet, have not changed their “no cancellation of flights after 24 hours of booking” policy.

This means that students who had flights to now untravelable regions like Italy cannot get money back from canceled travel due to the rapidly escalating virus outbreak. 

Shannon, a Junior at American University, had dropped $450 of her own money on flights and $150 on housing for an unforgettable April spring break trip in Amalfi, Italy. Now, with Italy at an overall Level 3 Advisory and some parts at a Level 4, she and her group have been forced to cancel.

“When I contacted the airline about possibly getting some of my money back given the sudden situation, they refused to refund me. Now, I’m out $600, and don’t know if I should cancel other trips I had planned just in case,” Shannon said.

 Unfortunately, many students find themselves in a similar predicament: should they not take the risk of traveling at all outside their home country?

Georgetown Junior Ally and her parents have already considered the option of canceling all travel going forward. Her program is in Copenhagen, Denmark, a country that has a notoriously strong health care system. And only 35 cases on COVID-19 with none actually in Copenhagen.

Though Ally is most likely in one of the safest areas of Europe, her parents fear that if she were to leave for a weekend trip she would not be able to return.

“People all over Europe are in busy airports and then getting on planes with 400 plus people. My parents are just worried that my plane will land. Someone will have a fever, and all 400 of us will be quarantined or denied entry to Denmark.”

The Coronavirus advertisement informs people how to avoid the virus as much as possible.
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In situations like this, many parents are struggling to figure out how to best keep their kids safe while they’re living across the world. Some students’ parents are preemptively pulling them from their programs. Others aren’t as concerned about this virus that seems to only put infants and the elderly in danger. 

Nonetheless, the official advice from the World Health Organization as of now is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wear a mask only if you are feeling sick, and self-quarantine if you feel sick or have traveled to Italy, Iran, South Korea, or China. However, different students are dealing with this unprecedented virus, the future of existing abroad programs is unknown.

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Tarana Burke discusses her founding of the ‘Me Too Movement’ at St. Olaf College

Anna Leikvold

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Tarana Burke is the founder of the Me Too movement. The movement has worked to expose gender-based violence across the world. This past week Burke traveled around schools in Minnesota and spoke about the movement and her other projects.

Among the schools, she visited was St. Olaf College where she went in-depth about the movement and what else can be done. 

Burke is also currently the director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn New York and the co-founder of Just Be inc. Both work to create safe spaces and opportunities for young women. 

Since a young age, Burke has been involved in social justice issues but she didn’t get into gender-based violence work until later in her life. 

As a survivor herself, “there is healing in acting”, Burke said. Even though the work she does is tough, “If there is just one little girl who doesn’t have to feel what I did then this was a success.”

Tarana Burke emphasized the importance of centering women of color in this movement. Burke said that if we focus on the most marginalized of us all, everyone will be benefited.

She acknowledged that many people are affected by this violence from all backgrounds. But what differentiates groups is how society responds to violence. 

“We understand sexual violence doesn’t discriminate. It is the responses to gender-based violence where we discriminate,” Burke said.

As an example of this problem, Burke compared the Weinstein and R. Kelly cases. Because Weinstein’s victims were high profile white women, the world responded much quicker than in the case of R Kelly, who victimized numerous women, mostly nonwhite, under the public eye without a reaction for years.

“We are socialized to respond to the vulnerability of white women,” Burke said. 

Burke emphasized the importance of treating every group’s experiences with gender-based violence differently because of the unique circumstances around situations. Along with this important separation, she said it is very important to qualify all survival experiences.

Tarana Burke, Me Too Movement founder, advocates the ending of gender-based violence.
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She reminded people that some stories are messy and complex but that trauma affects each person in unique ways. And that we should be more widely understood. 

Burke discussed the complications that come with reporting on sexual-based violence and retraumatization. Survivors shouldn’t need to relay all the gory details of their experience. It is unfair that “we need to cut and bleed for people to have empathy.”

Burke said, “me too can be a conversation starter or the whole conversation.” Understanding that survivors don’t owe anyone a rational unified story, or even one at all, is important to remember.

People are supporting the Me Too Movement, founded by Tarana Burke by carrying signs.
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According to Burke colleges, including St. Olaf college, can and should be doing better to deal with sexual violence. Burke also said that presidents of universities need to be consistently clear that they have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence.

Further, she said that college students should be safe and should feel empowered to demand that safety. This safety should become a culture on campus that we can consistently rely on. 

She brought up the example of Rutgers University which requires a mandatory seminar every year for students instead of just an online session as a way to create that culture of safety.

The school should also be more transparent about its past failures and what they are consistently doing to improve. Title 9, according to Burke, should be completely overhauled, as it is not doing nearly enough.  

“When I walk around campus students should make me feel like they are safe,” Burke said. 

Along with making sure that students are safe and “don’t leave the school broken than they came”, Burke said, the institution has a duty to reprimand perpetrators so as to prevent them from harming more people.

Burke believes that we must, however, move away from a system of crime and punishment and move towards a more restorative and transformative process for the perpetrators. 

Burke reminded supporters of the movement that survivors need empathy and not pity. Survivors need to continuously live with what happened to them and “commit to healing work” Burke said, and “remember that there is strength in survival.”

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A Young Woman in South Africa Dies After Being Victim of Gender Based Violence at Her School

Anna Leikvold

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In a university in South Africa, one of the young women there dies, as a result of gender based violence.
Source: Anna Leikvold

Last fall Uyinene Mrwetyana, a Film and Media student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa was brutally raped and killed in a post office in the middle of the day. 

This tragedy shook the UCT campus deeply and became the tipping point for student activists and regular citizens alike to demand institutional and political change concerning gender-based violence. 

The event is not an isolated one, women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence in South Africa. 

According to the World Health Organisation, the age-standardized interpersonal violence death rate for women in South Africa is 12.5 per 100,000.  

One woman is estimated to be murdered every 3 hours in the country. 

According to Nomalanda Vilakazi, a third-year UCT student and activist who is making a documentary about gender-based violence in South Africa, gender-based violence has been prevalent for many years. 

“This situation is really fu** up in the way that we had to get to this point in order to talk about it. We had to get the heights of death in order to take it seriously when it has been happening for a long time,” Vilakazi said. 

Nationwide, people are demanding more protection, harsher sentences and better access to resources for victims of gender-based violence.

The women of South Africa are tired of being afraid, and rather than internalize the horrendous tragedies in a way that would feed that fear, they hope to fight for a better future for their generation and for their children’s generation. 

Last September, UCT shut down all classes for a few days in order to allow for campus-wide mourning and protest. Protesters took to the streets and marched to parliament, demanding their voices be heard.

These protests were interrupted by Uyinene Mrwetyana’s memorial service, a heartbreaking but inspiring event that drew in hundreds of solitary souls. 

Among the speakers was chancellor Graça Machel, the wife of late Nelson Mandela. Machel inspired listeners with words of hope and resistance.

The subsequent protests in the city center drew thousands of people and became violent when police used tear gas and shot rubber bullets at protesters who broke through police barricades. 

Students are very concerned by the lack of action taken by UCT to keep students safe and the greater South African government’s inadequacy in handling the crisis of gender-based violence.

“It’s frustrating when you put people who represent you in position and then they don’t act accordingly. They don’t use their power for what they are supposed to be doing,” Vilakazi said. 

The protests are continuing in the following weeks, as people boycott classes and continue to take to the streets, reflecting the powerful protest culture characteristic of UCT and the nation as a whole. 

Students and citizens have worked together to create a list of alleged rapists and abusers and, as a large group, have found these people and forced them to turn themselves in at local police stations. 

The president has been moved to declare the issue of gender-based violence in a state of emergency in South Africa.

UCT has also taken steps to address the safety concerns of students by adding security and support for students affected by gender-based violence.

 “In a parallel universe, at the vigil last night Uyinene was there, she was there standing, grieving another girl. It could have been anyone” Vilakazi said. 

The campus continues to mourn the loss of a life lost too soon. And to fight for justice for her and the countless other victims across the nation. 

Being that this is a global issue, it remains very important that people become aware of this movement and draw inspiration from it. The world should know her name and her story, and the overdo movement that is rising from her ashes. 

She is one of many victims of gender-based violence across the world, and people in South Africa have made the brave step of saying that enough is enough.

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