by Christie Reed
A flag, a heart and a cross are simple symbols, but when placed in conjunction with a red ribbon, they take on a whole new meaning.
These and similar “hope-filled” logos adorn the fronts of t-shirts from the new AIDS A-wear-ness line of clothing, which the University Bookshoppe began publicizing and selling this month.
The Bookshoppe hopes to heighten AIDS awareness among ULV students with the sale of this new product.
“They [students] think they have learned so much already that they are aware enough; this just isn’t true.” said Mary Lou Craver, manager of the University Bookshoppe.
Craver, along with Monique Yamamoto, employee at the Bookshoppe, have witnessed ignorance toward AIDS and the results of this ignorance.
“College students feel they’re invincible; they are young and strong and nothing can stop them,” said Craver. She hopes these t-shirts, being sold for $15.99, will help alter this misconception.
Lynette Stewart, regional buyer for Follett Colleges saw the opportunity to increase awareness amongst the college population and decided to make the investment in AIDS A-wear-ness.
“The statistics [of young adults with HIV/AIDS] in that age group are the highest,” said Stewart.
The Follett Company is following the famous AIDS quilt in its travels all over the U.S. The company has traveled all over the West Coast this year and plans to travel the East Coast this summer, spreading AIDS awareness to other Follett colleges by selling the shirts and other products from the line.
“It [the cause] is really close to us here at the Bookshoppe,” said Craver. “It hit us at home.”
Yamamoto had never paid much attention to the warnings about AIDS, like many people, until she found out that her older brother, who appeared perfectly healthy, was dying from the disease.
“When my brother was diagnosed, he already had full-blown AIDS with 20 T-cells left. Prior to that he was perfectly well,” said Yamamoto. “The disease is so deceitful.”
What Craver and Yamamoto find the most astounding is the ignorance among the student body. They feel that even with all of the media hype, students still don’t know the basic information about AIDS.
“Many students don’t even know what the red ribbon is for,” said Yamamoto, who wears the ribbon in hopes that it will spark curiosity in customers so she can share her knowledge about the disease. With celebrities wearing the ribbon pinned to their flashy dresses during the Academy Awards, it has become a famous public symbol. Yet, many students are still in the dark.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people come up to me in the Bookshoppe and ask, ‘what is that for?’ pointing to the ribbon on my shirt,” said Yamamoto.
“Sexually active students have the ‘I look OK, I feel OK, so I must be OK’ attitude. They never think they can get AIDS,” said Craver.
Others still believe that AIDS is a restrictive disease that is only for drug addicts using dirty needles and homosexual males.
“It is so important that students realize that AIDS is no longer a restrictive disease,” said Craver. “The escalation of the disease over the last 10 years is mind boggling.”
The AIDS A-wear-ness clothing line was one girl’s attempt to increase worldwide awareness, specifically at the high school and college level. The clothing line was founded by Jennifer Miller, a 17-year-old, living in a suburb of Stanton, Penn., who has suffered many losses to the disease.
“Jennifer realized that the world is full of endless possibilities, but some people live and die with the pain of AIDS,” said Helen Lavelle-Miller, Jennifer’s mother.
What started out as a fundraiser to help with her college tuition developed into a public service campaign.
The shirts are intended to “generate hope for a cure and offer encouragement to those who are living with AIDS.”
According to Lavelle-Miller, the messages are intentionally bright, joyous and hopeful. Each of the six or seven t-shirt styles have the universal red ribbon symbol applied to a number of objects and symbols that relay hope, such as a cross, a heart and an American flag.
“The shirts will inevitably be in the faces of people all day,” said Lavelle-Miller. “It is the strongest possible medium, even more so than TV or billboards.”
The response to Miller’s AIDS A-wear-ness line has been incredible. Miller contacted the NBC television show “E.R.” after seeing a recent episode where a young girl was diagnosed with AIDS. She was so excited about the show that she wanted to share with them her efforts to make people more aware. The Warner Brothers wardrobe director agreed to incorporate her t-shirts into upcoming episodes.
“We think getting more people aware of the realities of the disease is most important,” said Lavelle-Miller.
Craver agrees that “Containment can only come through widespread awareness.”
“Almost everyone knows somebody personally that has HIV or AIDS,” said Craver. “Hopefully the sale of the t-shirts will help students take measures before it hits their own homes.”