Family Weekend at George Mason university took place Oct. 14-16. President Alan Merten spoke at a dinner for students and parents (top) and was present for the presentation of the Family of the Year Award (right). The weekend culiminated with a 5K run/walk on campus and also featured Mason Madness and stand-up comedy from Wanda Sykes. Photos by Jake McLernon

HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is taking place during the month of October at George Mason University.
“The month is planned to bring awareness to HIV and AIDS issues, as well as the impact that it’s having on our community within Mason and our community within Fairfax and the northern Virginia area,” said AIDS Walk Captain Sarina Stephenson.

“It’s very important because a lot of students, as well as faculty and staff, don’t necessarily understand often the impact that it’s really having on a classmate or a co-worker or a professor that could be teaching them,” Stephenson said. “So I think a lot of times it’s overlooked at how close this issue hits home for us on our campus as well as around the world, and I think it starts with realizing how it impacts you as a college student and how it impacts other students around you and then taking that to another level.”

AIDS Walk is part of HIV/AIDS Awareness Month and will take place on Oct. 29 at 9 a.m. by Metro Center Station in Washington, D.C. Free shuttles will run throughout the day from the Shenandoah Parking Deck stop to the Vienna metro station.

“George Mason’s team could not be possible without our sponsors,” Stephenson said. “I would say a big push this year has been obviously the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement. We kind of [host] or jump start AIDS Walk campaign for George Mason’s team and then this year we are partnering with Student Government, Sexual Assault Services, Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, as well as we open it up to our 200-plus student organizations.”

According to Stephenson, last year there were 42 sponsor student organizations and a total of 456 registered students, faculty and staff who participated in AIDS Walk.

“We are hoping to get around 55 student organizations this year,” Stephenson said.

This year incentives will be offered. “We say, ‘If you can commit to signing up 10 of your members for AIDS Walk, then we’ll recognize you as a sponsor and put you on the back of our Mason T-shirt’ and we are doing that again this year,” said Stephenson.

Stephenson also talked about the importance of educating people in the community about HIV/AIDS.
“It starts with educating yourself,” Stephenson said. “Educate yourself and then register and walk. Educate yourself before you walk and really understand why you are walking and who you are walking for. There are tons of people who are really depending on people who walk and so I think that as team captain I’m really trying to hold educational events so people know and can take something away from it before they walk.”Taking part in AIDS Walk is becoming a Mason tradition.

“I feel like we have a pretty good presence on campus with HIV and AIDS awareness,” Stephenson said. “We have been doing AIDS Walk for at least 20 years, and every year our participation rates get larger and larger, so from those numbers we can tell it’s making a difference in people getting involved.”

Stephenson’s goal is to get at least 500 participants from Mason to come out for the AIDS Walk this year.
“We are representing George Mason University. We have to [showcase] in a way and we have to represent,” Stephenson said.