Course teaches living with Aids

March 17, 1995

A cinema professor is teaching Canada's only interdisciplinary Aids course. Thomas Waugh, of Montreal's Concordia University, has been teaching the course since September. Some of his students are themselves HIV positive.

"HIV/Aids: Cultural, Social and Scientific Aspects of the Pandemic", is divided into three blocks per term: natural sciences, social sciences and arts and culture. In an attempt to reflect the strong grass-roots movement and the reality of those most affected by the pandemic, the course has also been designed partly from the point of view of someone living with HIV.

Sample lectures, many of them given by external speakers, have included: "Living with Aids, Discrimination and Empowerment" and "Healing our Spirits, and Using Community Theatre to Combat Aids in First Nation Communities".

Concordia also has a highly prized faculty resource of its own: Jon Baggaley, a distinguished Aids educator who is a consultant for the US-based Centre for Disease Control.

Dr Waugh's approach has been unorthodox. Community internships for all 50 students are essential because Aids research has largely been shaped by grassroots organisations. The internships cover a range of campus, cultural and community groups. Students may work with Concordia's peer health educators, a student group that organises awareness weeks and information booths about HIV/Aids and other health issues. Or they may opt for a cultural internship with a group like Action Positive/Positive Action, which has organised exhibits and other Aids-related cultural events.

A third of students' marks are based on the internships. Sociology student Joseph Coombs, 26, took the Aids course to be more involved in community work: "I want to be prepared to deal with the issues," he says.

Christopher Williamson, a 21-year-old communications student thought the course would be exciting and added: "I know I need the information."

Students have complained that their skills are not always put to good use in the internships, but no one has yet had to be reassigned. Karen Herland, the teaching assistant responsible for the internships, understands the frustrations but she remains convinced that an important secondary learning process is occurring.

Dr Waugh obtained the bulk of the financing from the private sector. Pharmaceutical giant Burroughs Wellcome, makers of the Aids-delaying drug AZT, donated Can$40,000 (Pounds 17,400) for a two-year pilot course and Dr Waugh hopes it will continue.

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