SGAC marches for AIDS relief

Rory York I Staff Writer I

Members of the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) gather for a march on Church Street in Burlington, Vt. Photo by Alex Weiss.

On Friday Dec. 1, students from St. Michael’s College showed their support for a reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) by marching past the offices of Senator Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders.

PEPFAR was created by President George W. Bush in 2003 and has saved nearly 25 million lives since its creation. It has since been used as a model for other epidemics such as COVID-19 according to, a United States government-run website. 

Every five years PEPFAR goes to Congress for “reauthorization,” which allows the program to continue. This year, Congress missed the deadline to reauthorize during the threat of government shutdown, and the program is in danger of ending.

The House of Representatives passed a reauthorization for one year, but it no longer has the bipartisan support it had in the past, according to a statement by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the White House website.

This year, Republican representatives such as Chris Smith have pushed back against reauthorization due to the concern of PEPFAR funds going to abortion-related health services. In response, many groups across the country, such as the St. Michael’s College Students Global AIDS Campaign, have rallied and protested. 

SGAC is a student-run wing of PEPFAR, and the current chapter in St. Michael’s College is now the last surviving one.

On Dec. 1, St. Michael’s College students started in front of Senator Welch’s office, singing and chanting while moving throughout the crowded Church Street. The group chanted “Renew, Revive, Reauthorize.”

On Church Street, Senator Bernie Sanders approached the group of about a dozen students. He discussed the issue of PEPFAR and the health care that comes with it. 

“This is an important issue, and it’s not just about AIDS, it’s about health care,” Sen. Sanders said to the group. The group was planning to meet with Sanders’s representative, so the in-person meeting was a well-received surprise.

“This is the exact reason you do this,” Trish Siplon, a professor of Political Science and director of Public Health, said to the group after Sen. Sanders left. Siplon advises the St. Michael’s College SGAC. 

“Whenever you do anything political, the most important thing to do is to personally impact somebody who will personally impact policy. And he really is good on this issue,” Siplon said. 

Students met in Cheray 101 on that previous Wednesday to prepare for the rally and inform those about the situation. Dakota Thomas ‘24, Jordan Mcgary ‘25, and Mia Cooper ‘24 led a presentation in collaboration with Professor Siplon’s class, Politics Global AIDS Pandemic. The class discusses the complexities of AIDS and HIV across the world, along with the different variables of the epidemic.  

Although all students in the class were required to help with the rally as part of their final project, Thomas, McGary, and Cooper led the charge as members of the SGAC. Thomas discussed how important it was for students to be involved. 

“As college students, we talk a lot in class about how we have a lot of privilege to be able to organize…we also have the privilege of being college educated,” Thomas said. 

The slideshow they presented included frequently asked questions and basic information about the issue surrounding AIDS, PEPFAR, and reauthorization. 

After the presentation from the students, Asia Russell, the executive director of Health Global Access Project (Health GAP), an activist group that focuses on policy and outreach specifically with AIDS and HIV, spoke via zoom. 

They spoke about the impact of PEPFAR and how important reauthorization is.

“It was paradigm shattering, hardly perfect, but saved millions of lives and is the model of many other initiatives. The only reason why we have things like PEPFAR is because of people like you,” Russell said, gesturing toward the room full of students.