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Higher Education Modules

Society at Odds: the Evolution of AIDS Outreach and Education in America


Surviving and Thriving: American Responses to AIDS consists of six-one hour classes, each of which provides a brief introduction, primary and secondary source materials from a variety of mediums, and class discussion questions. Information about the module’s author, suggested use, and learning outcomes, is also available online at About the Module.

  • Class 1: AIDS as a Disease in Social and Political Context

    introduces students to the responses to AIDS in the medical community, and provides a general overview of the decade via a timeline and some context on gay culture in the early 1980s. These accounts introduce students to the social stigmas of specific risk behaviors, as well as sets set the tone to begin discussion on how attitudes shaped specific responses and evolved through the decade.

  • Class 2: Responding to AIDS, Inciting Action

    focuses on how AIDS activists galvanized support to raise awareness for AIDS and people with AIDS. Students read, see, and hear from people who took action to educate citizens and lawmakers about several facets of AIDS..

  • Class 3: Educating Local Communities

    presents two case studies of AIDS outreach efforts in two distinct communities, both of which focused on teaching safer sexual practices through frank descriptions and discussions about actual behaviors in the gay and straight communities. The organizations featured—the South Carolina AIDS Education Network and the Northwest AIDS Foundation—offer examples of local, grassroots efforts that focused on specific community practices and needs.

  • Class 4: Federal Government’s Responses

    examines the conflicting ideas and ideologies at work in the Reagan administration, which ultimately delayed education and outreach efforts. Students are presented with a historical overview of the federal response, as well as examples from the then Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, and President Reagan to understand the conflicts and complexities of reaching a diverse and divided national audience.

  • Class 5: Educating the Public and Preventing AIDS

    presents two examples of national, government-sponsored campaigns designed to help the public understand how to protect themselves and others from AIDS. It also offers some criticism from then New York City Mayor Ed Koch on the more conservative attitudes that limited local activist efforts.

  • Class 6: Legacies and Memories

    presents a historical perspective on how AIDS is remembered on an individual level and through the national monument of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, as a socially meaningful period in American history.

  • About the Module: Author

    Emily W. Easton has researched cultural and media representations of AIDS for more than a decade. She began her research as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, writing her BA thesis on newspaper coverage of AIDS in the 1980s as compared New York and Chicago. As her focus shifted to critical theory in her graduate work, her continued interest in the social and cultural legacies of AIDS connected her with this project, where she has helped to write content for the digital galleries and authored this module. Her current research focuses on cultural capital in online spaces, specifically how people learn and consume culture with the new promises (and perils) of the Internet. She has most recently taught courses in the Cultural Studies department at Columbia College Chicago, which focused on introducing students to more critical views of media. Outside of her academic work, she is an accomplished administrator and active in several non-profits, most notably as a founder of Girls Rock! Chicago, which teaches empowerment and self-expression to girls through the writing and playing of their own music.