AIDS activist discusses importance of finding cure

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have been around for many years without a probable cure. HIV is a particular virus that weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight infection--T-cells and CD4 cells. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome occurs when your immune system becomes deficient. According to AIDS.gov, “AIDS is syndrome, rather than a single disease, because it is a complex illness with a wide range of complications and symptoms.” Brryan Jackson, AIDS activist and survivor, began his presentation on Dec. 1 with a list of HIV Fun (Not Really) Facts. In Jackson’s slideshow, it was stated that 35 million people are infected with the virus, and around 3.3 million of these patients are under the age of 15. The only way to know if a person has the virus is to take a 20 minute, painless HIV test. And although the virus is not airborne, some of the population do not even know that they have it. When most people think of a face for AIDS, they picture drug users, prostitutes, homosexual couples, etc. However, Jackson made it very clear that each and every human being could be considered a face of AIDS. There are no visible symptoms of AIDS. The destruction happens inside a person’s body, which is why people do not die from AIDS itself, but from related medical complications, including pneumonia. Jackson was admitted into the hospital when he was eleven months old for a series of asthma attacks. Just before being released from the hospital, he received a surprise visit from his father, who had never been a significant part of his life. Brryan’s mother, exhausted and thirsty, left the father alone with his son to get a drink. When she returned, she found her baby boy crying hysterically. Jackson’s father came to the hospital that day with a “grand plan.” He brought his lab coat along with him for the purpose of killing his son so that he could avoid paying child support. Brryan’s father injected him with HIV-tainted, incompatible blood before disappearing. Soon, Jackson became bloated and feverish. He was tested for numerous diseases, when finally, the doctors made the decision to test Jackson for HIV. The test came back positive, as Jackson’s T-cell count was at zero. Jackson’s family was told that he had five months to live. Yet he is now in his 20s, his virus is sustained, and he has been given a chance at life. Jackson spoke at Western to tell his story, but also to raise awareness for the incurable, yet preventable virus. Dana Heldenbrand, administrative coordinator for student development, said that Jackson’s story was brought to her attention by Mitzi Teliczan of the St. Joseph Health Department. The Center for Student Involvement was immediately interested in Jackson’s story, and thought that it would fit in well with the Standing in Your Truth series. Jackson told the audience about his childhood experiences. He was not allowed to go to school for a period of time due to being HIV positive. Once Jackson was able to attend public school, he was assigned a specific bathroom and was unable to use the water fountains, participate in after school activities, or play sports. Jackson said that he was “treated like a monster,” yet he realized that sharing his story with the world was more joyful than anything else he could have done. Throughout the presentation, Jackson focused on how he did not want to be treated as a victim. What he wanted do was find a solution to his problem and figure out how to overcome it. “I wish I could take away everyone’s pain,” Jackson said. “But where there’s pain, there’s gonna be gain.” In Dec. 1998, Jackson’s father was convicted of first-degree assault and was given life in prison with possibility of parole. Jackson stated that although he has not seen his father since that day in the hospital, and has no intentions of doing so, he chose to forgive him. “I’m not going to let what he’s done define me,” Jackson said. Heldenbrand said that Jackson did a wonderful job with his presentation. She also said that his story was "powerful.” When asked how Jackson was chosen for the presentation, Heldenbrand had a strong answer. “Who better than someone who has really embraced his past and is standing in his truth?” she said. Even though Jackson’s HIV is currently undetectable, an audience member asked if he expected to come across any limitations in his life. “I think I’m limitless,” Jackson said.

LGBT & Faith panel

For as long as many can remember, questions about homosexuality and its relation to the Bible have surfaced. On Oct. 29, three local church affiliates joined a crowd of questioning faces to discuss how LGBT and faith collide. The panel consisted of Steven Andrews, pastor at Parkville Presbyterian Church; Brian Kirk, pastor at First Christian Church of St. Joseph; and Suzanne Shay, children’s minister at First Christian Church. The panel allowed audience members to ask questions regarding LGBT and faith, which were answered through the panel members’ knowledge and notes taken from the Bible. According to the panel, there are only around 6 or 7 passages in the Bible that discuss anything that could be related to homosexuality. There are passages within the Bible that talk about same gender sexual activity, however, homosexuality is never directly mentioned in the Bible. This could be because of the time period, in which the people did not know about sexuality. Sexual orientation, in biblical times, meant nothing. Instead, the Bible talks a lot about a type of relationship that is not loving and affirming. In the Bible, sex was for the purpose of procreation--not joy. This being said, many could argue that homosexuality is wrong strictly because it stops procreation. Kirk argued that two people can still compliment one another and blossom in a relationship without ever having children. “It’s not only about biology, it is about feelings and relationships,” Shay said. There is also not a specific reference to bisexuality in the Bible. Eunuchs, which are described as men without part of the male anatomy, are mentioned as people who defied traditional gender expectations. “Eunuchs are talked about as a modern day stereotype of gay men,” Andrews said. During the panel, it was also discussed how the Bible’s focus around sexual acts of men and not women faltered toward sexism. Andrews stated that a lot of the negative images we perceive about women come from scripture. In biblical times, women were not treated as they are today. Instead, they were treated as property. The women were meant to cook, clean, and be wives in the simplest sense of the word. “The biblical understanding of marriage is not a relationship,” Shay said. “It’s proprietary.” There were people among the audience who were supportive of the idea of homosexuality and its relation with faith, as well as audience members who were unsure of how homosexuality was considered “okay.” The panel quickly turned into a heated discussion about homosexuality being unnatural. Reliable information was given from both sides of the discussion, revealing what is both said and unsaid about homosexuality in the Bible. Clyde Clark, attendee of the panel, and also a member of First Christian Church, spoke several times during the discussion. “Homosexuality happens in multiple species,” Clark said. “And those species aren’t ruled by a Bible.” Clark also admitted his understanding that there was a very divided point of view about homosexuality during the panel. He also admitted that it was expected. Kirk discussed his personal beliefs about homosexuality. He discussed how the Bible talked about relationships as treating people with love and compassion, and trusting in the love of God. According to him, this concept does not mention a specific gender or sex. Kirk also shared about his relationship with his own partner, and how it was very loving--exactly how relationships are supposed to be. “Homosexuality is just another aspect of human sexuality,” Kirk said. Another topic discussed at the panel was the idea of Heaven and Hell, and the fate of homosexual persons. The panel quickly pointed out that Jesus’ focus was not about Heaven and Hell, but about the here and now. Overall, the panel brought up a discussion with many honest questions. Andrews, Kirk and Shay all agreed that a person’s views on homosexuality depends on their own interpretation of scripture. “In the Bible, you’re not going to get a lot of blatant answers for certainty,” Clark said. Clark also stated that the panel had reiterated everything he had searched for himself.  

Western hosts congressional debate

Western held a congressional debate on Tuesday, Oct. 14 where students could ask candidates questions about their position on important subjects.

Dr. W.A. (Bill) Hedge and Russ Monchill are both running for Missouri 6th District of the United States Congress.

Dylan Gibson, a political science major, had a big hand in organizing the debate.

“Politics affects pretty much every aspect of everyone’s life,” Dylan Gibson said. “There’s a serious problem with people not turning out to vote. I feel like engaging people in the political process directly will help that in some way.”

Thomas Cassity, who is also a political science major, was excited to learn where the politicians stood on each subject.

“The most important topic I hope they discuss is abortion,” Cassity said.

Despite having Hedge and Monchill present, the students and faculty who organized the event were unhappy with Congressman Sam Graves, who failed to respond to their invitation to the debate.

Several attempts to contact the congressman were made, but no response was ever given on behalf of Graves.

“I think that it reflects poorly on Graves’ campaign choices,” Cassity said. “Due to the fact that we had asked in an email if the date we had set couldn’t work for him; we’d like them to contact us with a date that could. And to my knowledge, they never responded. So, I’m a bit disappointed.”

Gibson agreed that Graves’ lack of appearance was not the best impression on voters in the area.

“I feel like it shows where [Graves’] priorities are,” Gibson said. “I’m sure he’s probably on a campaign somewhere with friendly voters or donors, rather than coming to constituents, instead of actually talking to people that he needs to hear from.”

Dr. Jonathan Euchner, assistant professor of political science, moderated the debate. He said they would stick with topics such as the budget deficit, foreign policy, Obamacare/healthcare, the gridlock in Washington and the disconnect between the government we want and the taxes we’re willing to pay.

Euchner believes that forums like the congressional debate are important to everyone, not just the candidates. He believes it is an opportunity for students to learn about the candidates and their views, as well as keep them informed as voters.

“The problem is not having forums; the problem is getting candidates to come to forums...” Euchner said. “Particularly, the good congressman who we invited repeatedly. They’re useful for voters. They’re useful for students, who are also voters. And they’re useful for candidates.”

Senator visits Western

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Due to new legislation and changes to old understandings, one local politician has taken it upon herself to help educate Missouri college campuses regarding sexual violence. As part of her "Claire on Campus' tour, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill visited Missouri Western to speak to administrators, faculty members and students about sexual assault. She made her visit on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 4:15 p.m. "Whenever Washington passes a law, we have a bad habit that we don't check in with the people who are going to utilize the law," she said. "We don't check in to make sure that what we're doing is practical, it's responsible, that it will actually accomplish the goals we want to accomplish. So, what I've been doing is traveling around the state.... to make sure I'm getting input from students, from administrators, from law enforcement, about this very thorny and difficult problem of sexual assault on college campuses." McCaskill spoke about the importance of educating students about sexual assault and advocating for the victims of those crimes. She said there was one fact in particular that she founds alarming. "If you go to college in America, you are more likely to be sexually assaulted than if you don't," she said. "There's a lot of complicated reasons why that's a fact, and that's why we need Title IX to be workable and robust, and that's why we need  to talk about the intersect between Title IX and the law enforcement system." Daniel Hager, president of the Student Government Association, said it is important that the culture of being embarrassed or reluctant to report sexual assault changes. One SGA recent initiative is the 'It's On Us' campaign. According to their website, the 'It's On Us' campaign encourages students to take a pledge as 'a personal commitment to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault.' "One of the things we have been speaking on with the 'It's On Us' campaign is that we want to be advocates of not just being a bystander - of getting actively involved," Hager said. He said that he and McCaskill discussed that some students view only extreme situations as sexual assault, like "a stranger jumping out of the bushes with a knife." "That's not it, at all," Hager said. "The reason we are pushing so much on the 'It's On Us' campaign is not because we want everyone to change their profile pictures to make us look better, but it's because they need to read this information and be educated on what they can do." Vice President of SGA Tyler O'Neill said that campus leaders need to step up and educate themselves and peers about sexual violence. "It needs to start with the [student] leaders and they need to disperse [the information] to the students," O'Neill said. "As a student, you can inform yourself about it, but not every student is going to do that. To get the word out there, to get people understanding, it's got to be a student leader thing." O'Neill said some examples of ways to inform students would be having the resident assistants educate their residents on sexual assault awareness and having the University 101 class include more information about sexual violence. Student Governor Lionel Attawia agreed that student leaders need to be educated and help lead the fight against sexual violence on Western's campus. "I feel that the next step is to get student leaders, that's myself, Daniel, senators, and maybe presidents of organizations also, and your RAs of course, to have a complete understanding of what all of this information means," Attawia said. "From there on, just make the communication clear with students by setting up programs, setting up seminars - required by classes."

The living, breathing law: Title IX

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Above is a quote from Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that, by definition, requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Many people only know of Title IX by how it applies to sports. Yet athletics is only one of the 10 key areas addressed by the law. The different areas of Title IX are: Career Education, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Sexual Harassment, Access to Higher Education, Standardized Testing, Employment and Technology. According to Shana Meyer, Vice President for Student Affairs, in 2011, all institutions received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights called the “Dear Colleague” letter. That is when major changes started happening to Title IX. Institutions in compliance with the law began providing training for students, faculty, and staff about the awarenesses/effects of Title IX. They also discussed placing Title IX officers on campuses, having judicial cases regarding sexual assault, and learning how to respond to assault or harassment allegations. Title IX was passed 35 years ago, and it has been the subject of over 20 proposed amendments, reviews, etc. On the Title IX website, it is referred to as a living, breathing law. Although the law seems to be necessary, there are thousands of schools across the country that are not enforcing Title IX. Fortunately, our very own Missouri Western campus is not one of those schools. Western has been enforcing Title IX for as long as the law has been passed. However, the law is being looked at in a new way this school year. Typically, Title IX’s focus is gender equity (i.e. having an equal amount of sports for both genders). The focus has now changed to violence against women and sexual harassment, among other things. Western has been trying to make students more aware of these issues in order to ensure safety and fairness on campus. In the past, a system called Green Dot was used in order to prevent violence. Training was also given during Griffon Edge in the form of an online seminar about sexual harassment. This was one of the new changes in Western’s compliance with Title IX; providing training and information about the issue of assault and violence relating to gender. “Some of the things that we have been doing lately are making sure that our Student Code of Conduct has everything in it that it needs to in regards to harassment, sexual assault, and gender violence,” Meyer said. “Also, to make sure that students can readily find [the Code of Conduct] on the website.” Meyer, as well as other members of the Title IX committee, want to make sure that this information is readily accessible to all students. On Friday, September 26, around 20 faculty from Western attended an advanced training seminar that discussed the history, focus, etc. of Title IX. Sally Sanders, Director of Human Resources, and Kristen Neeley, Assistant Director of New Student Programs, were among the many faculty members that attended the seminar. They each stated their claim of learning legitimate, expert information on Title IX and how to fully comply with the law. The focus of the seminar was how to educate students, faculty, and staff on what to do if an incident were to occur and how to react to it. It was also made clear that, in the case of a situation, officials can not disclose information. All information is not in-confidence and has to be reported if it is considered sexual assault. The faculty were taught to ask all questions possible in order to fully comprehend a situation, and to pay attention to any gray area in accordance to the letter of the law. It was also made known that “yes” is consent. Neeley spoke about her view on the concept of the Title IX training. “You just have to get the message out there to everyone across campus; nothing is going to be essentially confidential, that we have to investigate everything, and also, for the victims to have a voice,” Neeley said.  She also clarified that it was necessary to let victims know that it is okay to talk about their situations. Western’s goal is to provide increased awareness of assault and violence, and to increase the reporting of situations. Procedure and training requirements are also necessary in order to educate campus officials.  The awareness concept is to ensure that more reports are made and the people are comfortable with reporting a situation. “The only way to increase reporting is to increase awareness; to make people realize there are avenues by which to report,” Sanders said. She also claimed that if students feel as if they’re victims, they need to know the appropriate avenues and resources in order to report. Sanders also said that the more violent aspect of Title IX is being primarily addressed, and that there is still pending legislation that will affect what changes are made on campus in accordance to the law. Tim Kissock, Risk Manager, discussed his own views and facts based on the recent training seminar, as well as previous knowledge. “Women are predominantly the victims of these attacks, and colleges and universities need to be adequately taking care of these issues,” Kissock said. Gender discrimination in educational settings--both colleges and K-12--has been Title IX’s initial focus, and Kissock believes that the compliance with Title IX is very important to ensure safety on campuses--primarily our own. “This is something that we take seriously, and I believe we’ve always taken seriously,” Meyer said. She also claimed that campus officials would work with police, and they would also investigate if any situations were to occur involving sexual assault, harassment, etc. According to Sanders, Title IX and the Clery Act, an act involving campus crime and security policies, are “dovetailing.” Part of the permissions of Title IX allow for there to be fines if campuses don’t adequately comply with the law. There have also been fines changing within the realm of the Clery Act, as well as proposal and legislation coming through with Title IX. Proposed penalties are also changing. “What we are trying to do is make sure we are in compliance, as well as updating policies in order to keep in line with the current interpretations of the law,” Kissock said. On Oct. 7, Senator Claire McCaskill will be visiting Western campus. McCaskill contacted campus and set up a visit. She will be leading a forum and posing questions to the audience. She will also be detailing her understanding of us being compliant with the law, and ensuring that we know all that we should know about the benefits and goals of Title IX.