Jamie Kennedy notwithstanding, this week in particular has seen many different and unique programs on campus, from Nobel Laureate Dr. Sidney Altman to economic advisor Allan Hubbard. Perhaps the most engaging lecture this week, however, was that given by Samuel Delany, a groundbreaking science fiction writer who was brought to campus by the Stonewell Fund. In a wide-ranging speech, Delany, who is openly gay, discussed both his own sexual exploits as well as the problem of AIDS within and outside of the gay community. His approach contrasted greatly with that of Dr. John Chittick '70, who spoke to a number of student organizations about his TeenAIDS-PeerCorps program, which uses grassroots methods to spread information about AIDS. While both men should be commended for making Dartmouth students think about an issue that is often ignored inside the "Hanover Bubble," their different views on the issue highlight some of the key problems inherent in the fight against AIDS and the dissemination of information about the virus.
Delany's graphic accounts of his own sexual history served as a segue into his discussion of the gambles inherent in human sexual behavior and how that figures into the transmission of AIDS. Delany called for more scientific studies of how the virus is transmitted, particularly in women and in gay men who partake in a variety of activities. However, while his arguments about the need for greater scientific inquiry are admirable, his anecdotal evidence about his own promiscuity did little to defuse the stereotypes about gay promiscuity in general. The implicit endorsement of sexual risk-taking is also problematic and perhaps helped to undermine the overwhelming message of the need for more concrete evidence about AIDS.
Chittick's talks, in contrast, focused overwhelmingly on the spread of information, not on how the disease itself was transferred. He focused on prevention through grassroots methods such as individual encounters to share information and discuss the disease. Chittick's personal anecdotes centered on his difficulties in bringing information to young people abroad. His take-away message was that the future of AIDS prevention lay with young people, and they should be the targets of education on the topic.
Both Delany and Chittick brought worthwhile messages to campus, and the respective organizers of the events should be commended for enabling both to speak and interact with students. However, Delany's implicit reinforcement of the stereotype of the gay man as promiscuous undermined his message of the need for more concrete information. Chittick, in contrast, focused primarily on education, but did so in a way that was accessible to a young audience. The difference between the two highlights two disparate ways of thinking about AIDS, but the exposure of the campus to both schools of thought is an important measure. Both bring a personal perspective to fighting the AIDS epidemic that is instrumental for education.