In The News

Gay People at Columbia seek Volunteers for Cancer Research

First reference to the AIDS crisis in the Columbia Spectator

The reference to the AIDS crisis in the Columbia Spectator is not a piece of reporting, but an advertisement in the November 16, 1981 issue, placed by a student group seeking volunteers. “Gay People at Columbia seek volunteers for cancer research,” it says. “Physicians from St. Luke’s Hospital will discuss this project relating to Kaposi’s sarcoma with potential volunteers at 8:30 pm in the Schiff Room of Earl Hall on Tues., Nov. 17. Volunteers should be gay and male. No other qualifications.”


Protesters with signs saying things such as "Fight AIDS, not Gays"

The New Normal

From our vantage point in 2019, the Spectator advertisement is ominous. Only seven months earlier, a New York Times headline, now well-known in annals of the HIV epidemic in the U.S., read “Rare cancer seen in 41 homosexuals.” The Times story went on to report that a preponderance of the gay men diagnosed were from New York City, and that eight of the men diagnosed died within twenty-four months. 

Fear & Hope

Nearly all of the Columbia Spectator reporting on HIV/AIDS from 1981-1996 is provided here.  The burden of HIV on the university is palpable in the expressions of fear and hope in these pieces. The sheer number of stories about HIV and its effects on students’ lives, as well as the amount of advertising of supportive and informational meetings hosted by various student, health and administrative groups, shows the extent of the concern. Particularly noteworthy are the special issue titled “AIDS and Columbia,” published on October 17, 1985 and the supplemental “Special Issue on AIDS,” published on October 29, 1990.

An updated view of how HIV/AIDS impacted student life was told in 2012 in an article entitled "Fight On: The Story of AIDS at Columbia", written by a Columbia College student named Will Hughes who, among other achievement while at Columbia, created the first GHAP Archive site.

It should be noted that the reporting and advertising included here is limited, for the most part, to stories pertaining directly to Columbia. We did not include reviews of novels, films or theater, for example, nor did we include reporting by other news agencies that were reprinted in the Spectator

Dr. Mathilde Krim, a founder of amFAR and a leader and activist in the research for treatments and a cure for HIV/AIDs. Only one of the many roles she assumed during her career, Krim held the academic appointment of adjunct professor of Public Health and Management, at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

More Treatments, Less Urgency

Additionally, we decided not to share as much of the Spectator reporting on HIV/AIDS after 1996. The development of highly-active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, around this time was a game-changer. An HIV diagnosis would no longer be akin to a death sentence for people who had access to treatment. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reporting after 1996 doesn’t show the same degree of urgency about HIV among Columbia students (although the fear never disappears completely). This is not to say that Columbians weren’t thinking passionately about HIV and AIDS, but the focus since the mid 1990s has tended to be about people, places and politics outside of the iron gates. All of this is worth investigating, and easily searchable at the online Spectator Archive.

Columbia Spectator Coverage By Year

Below are links to online articles or scanned copies from the archives of the Columbia Spectator, sorted by year: