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Context subject seeks increasd AIDS awareness

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By Lisa Havran

AIDS: Scientific Challenge and Human Challenge (7.00J/15.60J) is being offered for the second time in an attempt to educate the MIT community about dangers and problems of the AIDS virus.

The ten-lecture class, which is part of the Institute's Context program, is being taught by Professor David Baltimore '61, a Nobel laureate, and Special Assistant to the President Mary P. Rowe, as it was last year. It will bring to campus several guest lecturers who daily face the dilemmas posed by AIDS -- epidemiologists, public policy specialists, and HIV carriers.

The class's primary objective is AIDS education and awareness, according to the course managers, Rowe and Assistant Dean Leslie C. Perelman.

Rowe said she is especially interested in informing heterosexual women about the risk the AIDS virus poses to them. She expressed concern over the finding by a recent study of college-age women that nearly 30 percent of them have practiced anal intercourse. By practicing anal intercourse young women are "protecting their technical virginity and preventing pregnancy, but they are putting themselves at high risk for HIV infection," Rowe said.

Rowe hoped the AIDS class may save lives by informing people of these types of risks.

Comments received on last year's course evaluation forms prompted organizers to alter this semester's AIDS class, Rowe said. For example, Baltimore will give three lectures this year instead of two as he did last year.

Students also asked for more emphasis on how AIDS affects women and minorities. As a result, Mary Bassett, a doctor who works with AIDS patients in Zimbabwe, will discuss the AIDS situation in Africa on Monday. And Harlon Dalton will address the question of "Is AIDS genocide?" on Oct. 23.

Perelman said that this year the course is focusing more on people with personal encounters with AIDS. Thomas C. Mills '77, a psychiatrist who is HIV positive, spoke at a recent lecture.

Both Rowe and Perelman said they are happy with the MIT community's response to the class. While the class is an undergraduate course offering, it is also a forum for the community, Perelman said. It not only gives students who are concerned about AIDS a chance to learn more about the disease, but it also gives faculty, health services personnel, and staff people a better chance to explore these issues, he explained.

Perelman said that the goal of the context courses is to allow people to understand the "social, human, and ethical dimensions of science and technology." Almost everyone's life will be affected by the AIDS virus in the future. By getting people thinking and talking about AIDS now, it can prepare them for when they must deal with the virus in their personal or professional lives, Perelman said.