ASA fashion show combats HIV, AIDS stigma

This year, 23 students will model for the African Student Association’s AIDS Awareness Fashion Show. Many of them are not members of the ASA.

Yazmin Peña, ‘15, is modeling formal wear and will be participating in the fashion show for the first time. She is a member of another on campus organization, Project Nur, a humanitarian organization which works to celebrate Muslim culture. She wanted to show her club’s support for the cause.

“I volunteered, I’m a member of Project Nur and the president sent everyone an email saying they [ASA] needed models and I figured I’d go in the name of Project Nur,” said Peña.

“A lot of people don’t think of this when they think of Africa but a lot of it’s countries are Muslim countries so I figured Project Nur should be a part of the ASA show.”

ASA’s annual AIDS Awareness Fashion Show has four categories; cultural, formal, casual and accessories. ASA hosts the event in the hopes of destigmatizing HIV and AIDS.

ASA has been putting on the event since the fall of 2009 when Eunice Kesse, ‘11, had the idea.

The club partners with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, which works to empower individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS. The PATF also works to prevent the spread of the disease. The fashion show does offer students an opportunity to make donations and all of the proceeds from the event will go to the PATF.

Peta Henry, ‘15, is the vice president of ASA and stage manager for the event. She hopes that this year the event will raise somewhere around 300 dollars. She sees the event as an opportunity for students to show their support for the club, the cause and also take a break from the stress of finals.

“It’s usually in the fall, in December, that way classes are almost ending and its just a little something to enjoy and kind of unwind while raising money for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force,” said Henry.

Each year a presenter speaks at the event to provide the audience with practical ways to get involved with reshaping the stigma or assumptions associated with the illness.

“We wanted to raise awareness about AIDS and also decrease the stigma with African countries in relation to AIDS so we thought it would be a good way to raise money to counter that epidemic that’s going on, while giving people something to enjoy,” said Henry.

ASA is dedicated to sharing African culture with the campus population which is why the fashion show has a cultural category where the models will walk the runway wearing traditional dress. The show also features a selection of African music. However, by partnering with the local AIDS awareness organization, Henry hopes it will be clear that their focus is on the worldwide problem of the disease.

“Since the money is going to the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force it’s not like we’re overlooking the fact that AIDS or HIV is global, not just Africa which is the stigma lots of people have,” said Henry.

The clothes for the event were predominantly brought in by the models, donated over the years or even loaned to the club from local thrift stores in return for advertising.

The event will have two emcee’s, club member Angela Adusah, ‘15, and professor Marita Gilbert. During the event they will be talking about the models outfits and also adding a little fun to the event, said Gilbert.

“Part of it is of course to introduce our models to the community, to display African fashion but we also want to get everyone excited about our entire event. We provide just a little sass to the show,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert teaches classes in black studies at Allegheny and she also has a focus in women’s studies. Gilbert said she was excited to be a part of the ASA event, as it focuses on issues relevant to her academic work.

“One of the issues that affects particularly black women, diasporic black women, is HIV and AIDS. I wanted to lend my voice and then also show up and be present, to draw attention to this epidemic around the world,” said Gilbert. “I also try to support my students, their work and their efforts so it means more than just giving money, sometimes it means you have to show up and do things with them.”

Many of the students who are participating in the fashion show, as models or in leadership positions, have been students in Gilbert’s classes.

“I think that as a faculty member we really have to support our students in their academic endeavors and professional development. But also in their extracurricular activities just so they know they really can count on us,” said Gilbert.

President of ASA Akosua Nyantakyi, ‘15, said she is looking forward to the event. This will be her fourth and final year working with the club. Nyanktakyi has been involved with ASA since her freshman year and believes it is an important fixture on Allegheny’s campus.

“The club is necessary because Africa is largely misunderstood. People still think it’s a country not a continent and people are missing the beauty of its culture, its food, and its music because they’re only seeing HIV,” said Nyantakyi.

“What I love about the fashion show is that it brings different students from Allegheny’s campus together to speak out about an illness that not only impacts Africa, but also countries around the world.”