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Indiana University commemorates Ryan White's struggle

When 13-year-old Ryan White was barred from attending school after contracting HIV from a tainted blood transfusion in 1984, he and his mother began fighting not only for his life, but for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

"For the love of your children, you may do a lot of things you never thought you could," said Jeanne White Ginder, Ryan White's mother.

Ginder image

Jeanne White Ginder speaks at a symposium at IU Bloomington.

Print-Quality Photo

Ginder spoke on April 9 when Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, in partnership with the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, presented "AIDS Education: 20 Years after Ryan White." The symposium featured influential speakers both from Ryan White's life and from the field of HIV and AIDS education.

White died from AIDS 20 years ago, on April 8, 1990, a few months prior to his intended enrollment as a student at IU Bloomington.

Friday's program included a presentation from Dr. Douglas Kirby, a nationally recognized expert in the field of HIV and STD education programs, who said HIV education has come a long way since White's death.

"In 1990, there were no programs for young people that were effective at reducing sexual risk behaviors," he said. Now 68 percent of all comprehensive sex education programs are effective at improving at least one sexual risk behavior, and characteristics of effective programs are more clear. However, HIV education is still inadequate in most schools. "There is not enough time allotted to it," Kirby said. "More programs need to be implemented with fidelity."

Kirby and Ginder agreed that there are still many changes that need to be made to current policy in HIV education. Kirby said that effective programs need to be allotted enough time in order to be effective at reducing sexual risk behaviors, and that there needs to be an increased focus on reducing discrimination. Ginder emphasized the importance of comprehensive sexuality education, saying that issues such as HIV and teen pregnancy need to be talked about.

Jill Waibel

Jill Waibel, M.D., recipient of the Ryan White Distinguished Leadership Award, said White lived life with 'grace' as he 'selflessly' educated the world about AIDS.

The recent health care reform legislation promoted by the Obama administration includes funding for comprehensive sex education. However, according to Kirby, there are still huge challenges in the field of HIV, especially when it comes to finding a cure or a vaccine for the illness, and also reducing stigma towards people struggling with HIV or AIDS.

The symposium also included a short lecture by Dr. Jill Waibel, a childhood friend of Ryan White who, in 1991, founded the IU Dance Marathon, an event that has raised over $8.5 million for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Waibel also received the Ryan White Distinguished Leadership Award for her efforts in HIV/AIDS awareness and also for her personal efforts making Ryan White feel welcome and safe at school when they were children.

On behalf of the City of Bloomington, Deputy Mayor Maria Heslin proclaimed April 8 to be "Ryan White Day." Also, the Rural Center for AIDS/ STD Prevention and the School of HPER this month created the Ryan White Legacy Scholarship in his memory. For more about the scholarship, visit