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Headline dehumanizing to people with AIDS

We are writing in response to your article about Sidney Borum, a person with AIDS who spoke at MIT ["AIDS victim gives first-hand account," Oct. 24]. Overall the article was well written and sensitive to the issues surrounding AIDS. However, we were bothered that the headline used the term "AIDS victim."

There is much stigma attached to AIDS and people who have it. There is a lot of discrimination and a lack of understanding. It is believed by many that only certain groups of people get AIDS. Attributing the disease to others, separate from ourselves, we conclude that there is no reason for us to be concerned with it. But in the next few years, AIDS will touch all of our lives. In addition to facing our own risk, we must be sensitive to those whom the epidemic touches now.

One way to separate ourselves from those others, those who have AIDS, is to use the term "victim." A victim is not a person, it is a being characterized by illness. Victims have lost all identity as humans and are seen only in their role as sufferers.

"Victim" blurs the line between illness and death. We use the word for both people who are living and people who have died. Many people live for years with AIDS. Calling them victims reinforces the myth that being diagnosed is an instant death sentence. People who are living with AIDS don't want their lives cut short in our minds. The word victim equates living with the syndrome to dying from it.

Before the article was printed we spoke with the authors about using the term "person with AIDS" instead of "AIDS victim." They were sensitive and changed the words in their article. When it was printed, however, the person writing the headline did not know about our objection to the term. We contacted The Tech's editor in chief and explained to him why the term is offensive and requested that an erratum be published. He refused, saying that it was not important enough and that he did not see why the term was offensive.

Although he didn't understand why the word is offensive, he should have been sensitive to those who find it so. If a friend is bothered by a nickname, you stop using it, whether or not you understand why. There are more than 100,000 people in the United States with AIDS and many others who are personally affected by the epidemic. The term on the front page of The Tech was offensive to all of these people. They are important enough for the column-inch it takes to print an erratum.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about AIDS. The media is one of the main sources of inaccurate or insensitive information. Publications, including The Tech, need to start taking responsibility for the role they play in the public's understanding of the epidemic.

Kristen Gardner '90

Rachel Harmon '90->