The crash of SwissAir Flight 111 on September 2 dealt a tragic blow to the world's fight against AIDS, killing one of the world's foremost experts on the epidemic, Jonathan Mann. Mann's untimely death also affected a Penn student-led program to discuss the world AIDS crisis. He had been slated to speak at the University this fall as part of an AIDS in Africa dialogue initiated by three Penn students. The first event in the series, held a week ago, was a discussion of AIDS, poverty and human rights. The event was dedicated to Mann. Fourth-year Anthropology and Folklore graduate student Tonya Taylor, with the assistance of College juniors Adriana Lopez and Olivia Carballo, started the dialogue because she felt "lonely, isolated and constrained" by her efforts to investigate a topic that had impacted her so deeply. Taylor explained that several months of research in Zimbabwe stirred her interest in the AIDS epidemic. "I went to study the role of narrative in traditional healing, but I found that all the traditional healers were pragmatically dealing with HIV," she said. "I wanted to connect with other students, faculty and staff who share an interest in the global health crisis," Taylor added. "It was important to create an interdisciplinary community and dialogue." Despite Mann's loss, the dialogue will continue. The first meeting was described as a tremendous success, with more than 50 faculty members and students from many departments on campus attending, Taylor said. Included in that group were eight former students of Mann's from Allegheny University of the Health Sciences. Mann had taken a position there as dean of the School of Public Health just nine months before the crash. As the founding director of the Global Program on AIDS under the auspices of the World Health Organization, Mann supervised all of the UN's international AIDS programs. Mann was world-renowned for pioneering work that sought to establish basic public health as a human right, as well as the energy and devotion he brought to his work. Last spring, at the invitation of the career-planning office, Mann visited Penn to speak to pre-med students about the future of the medical field. He spoke with "spirit," recalled Renee Fox, professor emerita of the Medical School and a former colleague of Mann. "He had a questing, passionate approach to his work. He spoke with no flamboyance, but rather with intelligence and commitment." Fox recalled her astonishment at the diversity of the audience, which boasted students from a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Taylor cited Mann as a role model both for her own career pursuits and the cross-disciplinary dialogue on AIDS that she was trying to initiate. "I was in awe of his scholarship and his humanitarian activism," she said. "My research constantly led me to Dr. Mann's work. He was a seminal writer on human rights, poverty and gender inequality." When Taylor invited Mann to participate in the dialogue, he promised to come and speak for free. "I was surprised," she said. "I was running around all summer trying to raise money to bring him to Penn. But it just illustrates how accessible and concerned he was about the students." Future meetings of the AIDS discussion group will combine both student presentations and prominent speakers from the international community. The group will next meet on October 21 at 5 p.m. in the University Museum's Rainey Auditorium. A memorial service for Mann will be held next Monday at 3 p.m. in Allegheny's Garry Auditorium at 15th and Vine streets.Comments powered by Disqus
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