WALLA WALLA, Wash.— Last spring, Caitlin Chapman ’07 enrolled in an ethnographic fieldwork methods class co-taught by Suzanne Morrissey, lecturer of anthropology and gender studies, and Jason Pribilsky, assistant professor of anthropology. Immersed in the course, Chapman discovered a story she had to tell: the life histories of local residents afflicted by AIDS – acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The project has since blossomed into Chapman's senior thesis, the foundation of which can be seen in her exhibition, “Positive,” now on display in the lower-level lounge at Reid Campus Center.
Chapman's project is one of several Whitman events organized in concurrence with World AIDS Day. Other activities planned for today include free HIV testing provided by Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, a local nonprofit organization that provides support for people living with HIV/AIDS (11 a.m.–2 p.m., Reid Campus Center, G02); a candlelight procession (7 p.m., corner of First and Main streets); and a community-wide memorial service (7:30 p.m., First Congregational Church, corner of Palouse and Alder streets).
Chapman's project is “an overarching statement about this year's events,” according to Alberto Galindo, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures (Spanish) at Whitman. Chapman notes that “a rhetoric of risk” about AIDS has emerged in the United States “that has served to delineate between those who are ‘at risk’ and those who are not – ‘us' versus ‘them.’”
“Because of this, those who are infected are often seen as being to blame for their illness due to associated ‘moral failings’ like intravenous drug use, sex work, and homosexuality,” Chapman said. “Such a categorical and formulated conceptualization of the illness has lead to the pervasive mentality that ‘AIDS can't happen to me.’”
AIDS has claimed the lives of more than 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981. It is estimated that another 38.6 million people worldwide are living with the disease.
“These individuals are your neighbors, friends, sisters, brothers, husbands, fathers, wives, and/or lovers,” said Chapman. “They are not the ‘other,’ though they certainly know what it feels like to be told that they are.”
Chapman gathered the content for her project over a four-month period. She conducted in-depth interviews with each participant and often had access to personal effects such as letters and drawings. She also provided each participant with disposable cameras and asked them to document aspects of their lives that made them “unique.”
“The beauty of teaching here is seeing how a student's work so often grows into something much larger,” said Morrissey, who also directs Blue Mountain Heart to Heart. “Something that embraces relationships in the world.”
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