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Student works to combat AIDS in US and South Africa

When the AIDS outbreak emerged in the United States in the early 80s, young people were at the forefront of the fight to combat the deadly new disease through outspoken advocacy and political action. Though much of the fight against HIV and AIDS has now moved from the United States to the global stage, American college students have continued to take a leadership role.

At Northeastern, third-year biology major Angelina Sassi is helping to spark change on both a local and global scale. Sassi is the co-founder and former president of Northeastern’s chapter of FACE AIDS, a student organization that works to fight HIV/AIDS though health equity and social justice initiatives. Founded in 2005, the group has chapters on more than 2,000 colleges campuses across the United States.

“A lot of Northeastern students have a uniquely global perspective” that carries over into the kind of work the group does, Sassi explained. This global point of view, which group members hone through co-op and other experiential-learning opportunities, gives them the opportunity to fight HIV and AIDS both locally and internationally, she said.

Sassi plans on doing her part to stem the AIDS epidemic in South Africa; this fall, she will be working on co-op at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town.

“We didn’t grow up in the ’80s and ’90s when people were dying every day from this in America, but that’s still what’s happening in Africa,” Sassi said. “I want to be part of the movement working to end that.”

Back at Northeastern, FACE AIDS works to engage the campus community. The group holds several token campus events each year, including a fashion show that promotes safe sex and “Step Out Against AIDS,” which is cosponsored by African-American student groups. Members work to encourage students to get tested to HIV and hope to one day offer free testing and counseling throughout the year.

Earlier this summer, Sassi volunteered for Take The Test Boston, a weeklong community mobilization initiative aimed at encouraging people to get tested for HIV. The awareness event helped a few hundred people who otherwise not get tested learn their status, added Sassi.

“This has to be a cause that’s important to our generation,” Sassi said. “We can make the kind of impact that’s felt not just in our backyard, but around the world.”