by Cailynn Smith
December 1 was World AIDS Day. World AIDS day was first held in 1988. More than 1.1 million people are living with HIV infection, and in the United States about 1 in 5 people (18.1%) are unaware that they are even infected. This is an issue that not only affects the LGBTQ+ community but also various other racial and ethnic communities as well.
As the coordinator of my campus’ LGBTQ+ office, The Resource Center, and also as this year’s secretary for our campus’ feminist activist student organization, Campus Feminists in Solidarity, I wanted to make sure that the World AIDS Day event I held on our campus did justice in raising awareness and also engage students in taking this issue seriously. My hope was that by holding this event it would foster a conversation on campus in regards to HIV/AIDS prevention. I also wanted to make sure that I was inclusive of all minority and marginalized groups affected by this epidemic in addition to the intersectionality of the individuals ultimately affected by HIV/AIDS.
For the past 3 years, the office that I work for, The Resource Center, has always held a World AIDS Day event on campus to raise awareness. This is my first year running the office though, and to be honest it was the first time I had ever planned an event like this or even attended a World AIDS Day event. Needless to say, the pressure was on. Below I outline the steps that I took to organize and coordinate the World AIDS Day event on the IPFW (Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne) campus that I am located at. By no means is this “THE ONLY” way to organize a World AIDS Day event, there are a variety of creative ways to organize and hold an event such as this.
- Pick a Date that Works for your Campus: Even though World AIDS Day is held annually on December 1st, we had to land on the date of December 2nd for this year’s World AIDS Day event because December 1st was on a Sunday this year. The date of December 2nd worked better because it was on a Monday when students on more likely to be on campus.
- Start Planning Early: Even though World AIDS Day didn’t seem like a huge endeavor to take on there are still multiple facets that had to all come together in time for the event to happen. With the event that I held on my college campus I did a lot of collaboration and whenever collaborating is involved with one or more organizations or offices you need to keep in mind that this will add some time to the planning and preparation for your event.
- Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration: If there is one thing you take away from this article let be the idea of collaboration. Collaborating with other organizations and offices on campus and in the community is something that I have heavily emphasized in much of the programming that I did throughout this past semester and the World AIDS Day event that I held was no exception. I reached out to our community’s AIDS Task Force. They were vital to the speakers that I was able to have in attendance at this event. The AIDS Task Force was also key in bringing FREE HIV testing to our campus the same day that we held our World AIDS Day event also. In addition to the AIDS Task Force’s help, I also enlisted the help of our campus’ Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (ODMA). Every year ODMA holds an event to commemorate World AIDS Day so I figured teaming up would kill two birds with one stone! Why hold two separate events for the same initiative when you can collaborate to make for an even better event!
- PR and Social Media: Just like any other event that is held on campus, getting the word out can sometimes be the hardest part. Putting the event on Facebook, Twitter, inviting people via email, and creating fliers are the outlets that I have always used to try and inform people about events taking place on campus, and World AIDS Day was no exception.
- Getting your local Newspaper or TV station at the event: These items still fall under much of the PR stuff listed above but just putting information out there about the event is a great place to start in trying to urge the media to cover an event that you are having on campus. In regards to World AIDS Day, I had the help of ODMA to get a press release put out ahead of time so that media knew about our World AIDS Day event. A great place to start to disseminate information out about your event is to touch base with your campus’ university relations department and they should be able to help you with getting an official press release put on your university’s website as well as informing your local media about the event you are going to hold. I was fortunate enough to have our local Fort Wayne newspaper come to the event, in addition to two other local television stations attend the event for media coverage over World AIDS Day. Surprisingly enough one of the stations asked to interview me about the event that was being held! Here is a link to the brief interview that took place for our World AIDS Day event: http://www.wane.com/news/news-health/free-testing-at-ipfw-for-world-aids-day. (An additional interview that a separate television station did with one of the individuals from the AIDS Task Force can be found here: http://www.fortwaynehomepage.net/story/ipfw-acknowledges-world-aids-day/d/story/xESTZMk0pk-Nd3fnC5JxXw .) Take advantage of these opportunities when they are presented to you! I know even for someone like myself who has had to speak publicly several times before, getting in front of a camera while it can be a daunting task helps to give your office or organization additional PR. It also lets your campus and your community know that what you’re doing is important and worthwhile. Never pass up the chance to be interviewed despite how nervous or unqualified you think you might be. You are the spokesperson for your organization and if you don’t speak up then no one will know about all of the awesome initiatives that your organization on campus is doing!
- Making your Event look Official: When I use the term “official” I mean in a sense giving your event a great presentational look. The more presentable everything you hand out at your event the more serious people will take it. Even if you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing or you’re apprehensive because it’s your first time holding an event, go with the mantra of “fake it til you make it”. I was terrified when I knew I had to hold this event, I felt like I didn’t know much about HIV/AIDS, had never attended a World AIDS Day event before and now I was organizing an event covering all of those things! Needless to say I was a little nervous about how everything would turn out. Remember that it’s ok to be apprehensive but never diminish your own experience or how far you have come! Acting and being confident is the best way to show people that you know your stuff and that your event is one that is not only legit but to be taken seriously just like anything else held on your campus! For several of my events this past semester I made programs that included general information about the event, the line-up for the event, and other things such as who sponsored it, and contact information for my office as well as other offices that helped to sponsor the event. A program is a great way to utilize a professional look for your event, and gives people something to have in their hand the second they walk in the door, and something to take home with them. A program not only contains general information but contact information in case they are interested in other events, or want to become more involved. One last note that I would like to make about this topic is that at my World AIDS Day event I made sure to have a booth with my office’s information. At any of the events that I hold if there is ever an opportunity to have an extra table I always take advantage of it. It’s never a bad idea to always have a booth for your organization to set up a display board along with any other materials for attendees to look at and have additional materials to take away also. This will not only educate individuals about your initiatives but give individuals access to resources as well as encourage them to get involved.
- Covering Costs for you Event: Since I am in charge of an office on campus I am fortunate enough to have a budget to work with. My office covered the cost to print the programs, and I did this through our campus’ printing services department which is more cost effective and much faster than going to Fed Ex or any other printing business. I was able to enlist the help of ODMA (Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs) to have their student designer create a flier for the event. They were also generous enough to cover the costs of printing the flier and the cost of food for this event as well. The caterer we got for the event was a woman and minority owned business so that was an added treat to know that we were supporting a locally ran business in our community! Our caterer did an awesome job of also creating an ambience to our event and agreed to throw in a bunch of decorations in their set up of the refreshments and snacks. This also added presentational value to the World AIDS Day event that we held on our campus.
- Always look to Improve: With any event that is held on campus, there is always room for improvement. Ways to help you improve your event for the next year is by reevaluating how the event went. Taking a moment after the event has happened to think about what you personally think could be improved upon is a great way to make notes for next year’s event when it is held. Another great way to learn how to improve an event is to ask students or others that attended the event. Networking or mingling after the event is over is a perfect opportunity to ask for others’ input on what they think could improve the overall event. Lastly, having attendees fill out a survey at the end of the event to turn in is an excellent way to gauge how well your event went and what you may need to work on for the future. At the World AIDS Day event that I held, ODMA assisted me in creating a survey that was handed out and collected afterwards so we had data and input towards what could be done better for future events as well as next year’s World AIDS Day event.
Overall, the World AIDS Day event that I held went over extremely well, especially considering that it was the first one I had ever organized and the first World AIDS Day event I had ever attended before. On December 2nd, 2013 we had the AIDS Task Force come to the IPFW (Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne) campus and hold free HIV testing for students and other individuals for 5 hours during the day. Then from 12:00pm to 1:15pm that day we had a presentation entitled, “Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections; Zero Discrimination; Zero AIDS-related deaths”. The executive director of The AIDS Task Force, Jeff Markley gave a presentation. This presentation was followed by an individual that has been living with AIDS for a number of years. He shared his story of how he and his family has been affected by the AIDS epidemic. Afterwards we held a brief reception with snacks and refreshments. This type of model of presenter followed by reception is a great one to use for a variety of events! Also remember that anytime you can get an organization to come on campus for a period of time to do testing or provide a service for students and community members to take advantage of it! Without the collaboration from the AIDS Task Force and our campus’ Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs none of this would have been possible. Remember reaching out to other entities is always a good idea and you might be surprised by who is willing to help sponsor or get the word out about your event! I hope sharing my experience in how I planned our campus’ World AIDS day event can help give you some perspective and insight on how to prepare for events that you would like to hold on your campus in the future. And remember never doubt what you can achieve with a little bit of gumption and hard work!
If there are any questions or inquires please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.