Large patches of quilt laid across the floor and draped around the Student Union Multipurpose Room (MPR) captured favorite moments, hobbies, inside jokes and poems from people who lost their lives to AIDS.
The patches showcased parts of a larger project containing similar moments — 51.5 miles, 1,278, 675 sq. feet and 54 tons of them.
The AIDS memorial quilt is the largest community art project in the world and New Paltz students and residents were able to see a fraction of the quilt on Nov. 27 and 28.
The project began in 1987, when a group of friends from San Francisco decided to pay tribute to their loved ones who died from the disease. The full quilt was displayed at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, according to aidsquilt.org.
Brendan O’Brien, event coordinator in the Office of Student Activities and Union Services said his office wanted to host a less traditional student affairs program.
“I think for my office, we always try to challenge ourselves in doing something that’s not a stereotypical student affairs type program like a generic hypnotist,” O’Brien said. “We realized that with World AIDS Day being Dec. 1, we thought that this would be a great opportunity to showcase something that, for me personally, is somewhat of a forgotten social issue.”
O’Brien said this program displayed a side of the disease that people don’t see outside of a health class — the human cost of HIV/AIDS.
Third-year anthropology major Brittani O’Hearn expressed the same sentiment.
“It’s an incredibly powerful visual and a reminder that the individuals and their families affected by this disease are more than a statistic,” O’Hearn said. “It’s important for their stories to be told.”
People affected by the disease and honored in the patches were from all walks of life. One was 40 when the disease killed him, another was 4.
Brent Mann’s quilt featured a beach scene at sunset and a chest filled with pictures of family, while David Kauser’s quilt was elaborately knit, portraying him and his partner under a Christmas tree holding their dogs.
Gary Levinson, an alumnus working with the Emerging Leaders Program to teach an HIV 101 class, was diagnosed with AIDS in 1992. He said he first saw the AIDS quilt in the early 1990s at SUNY Purchase and said that his personal experience with the disease made him fearful when he first looked at them.
“When I first viewed the quilts there was an incredible sadness as well as fear in me,” Levinson said. “…I spent a long time comparing my age to the ages of the people represented by the quilts. I was about the age of a lot of them. I was wondering what my quilt would look like and what it would say about me.”
Levinson said the quilts inspire a different emotion in him today.
“I look at them today and see how far not only I have come, but also how far our treating of the disease has come,” Levinson said. “So, I look at the quilts today with some hope: hope that treatments will continue to progress and how far I personally have come.”
O’Brien said it has been 20 to 30 years since this program was hosted at SUNY New Paltz and he and his staff felt it was time to bring it back.
He also said the next time the program is hosted his staff will look into requesting quilts that belong to loved ones students may know personally.
Although O’Brien wasn’t certain about the turnout for the program — he guessed 50 to 60 people showed up — the number wasn’t so important to him.
“If even those 50 students walked away [and] told their friends what they saw and they changed their perspective or felt something, then that’s success, that’s a victory in my mind,” O’Brien said.