Health and Activism with a Side Dish of Macaroons

by Jen Martin

Yesterday was full of ups and downs. Well, more so for me than anyone else. I guess that’s what happens when you forget about your newly developed allergy to tree nuts and the fact that the famous French macaroons are made using almond powder, which of course lands you on the traffic-filled route straight to the ER.

Remind me to not live in New York, because if I haven’t run into Dr. Pitts and Terri Wilder at the coffee shop I stopped at to seek help. I don’t know if I could have waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Thankfully I am well now and back at the dorm. I am not going to let that unfortunate experience overshadow the great day I had:

I woke up Thursday morning excited and ready to jump out of bed for once. The group was going to visit the Spencer Cox Center for Health, which is a clinic that is dedicated to serving marginalized communities within New York City. The center specializes in treating HIV positive patients, but they also give the best care possible to those who are HIV negative but still need warm and welcoming treatment. We met with Terri Wilder, the director of HIV/AIDS Education and Training at the center. She discussed the center’s role in the fight against AIDS and the principles that the center uses to conduct its activities. Along with that we met two other people who are positive and learned about their experiences living with the virus and how they empower themselves and other people using the Peer Program at the clinic.


In which half of my face is hidden. My tallness didn’t help me here.


As an aspiring doctor, a common theme stood out to me in the presentation: the idea of self empowerment. During the AIDS crisis, many people who had the syndrome felt helpless as their medical providers (if they even had any) were not providing sufficient information about the virus and treatment options. Ultimately, the patients took it upon themselves to learn about the virus and push for the availability and accessibility of potential treatments. One of the people who discussed their life with HIV emphasized that he got the best care when the doctor acted as a professional advisor who would readily give all the information requested so that the patient can make an informed health care decision that would best suit himself, unlike his past providers who merely threw him a prescription without any initial disclosure. This made me realize that my role as a doctor shouldn’t merely be treating a patient, which sounds more akin to dealing with a burden, but rather that I should work with my patient. After all, they are a person, and not a problem, and I need to support them.

We ended our meeting with a brief tour of the Spencer Cox Center for Health and took a break for lunch before meeting with ACT UP to reflect on our experience Wednesday and discuss future activism possibilities.



The meeting was phenomenal. I would love to tell you all about what we discussed, but we would be here for days. However, one thing I want to stress is that there is nothing like having the insight of long time activists who moved the country, then continued to fight against AIDS even when America deemed it not a problem anymore. With their counsel, we were able to identify key problems that the LGBTQ community of Purdue face and how to properly address them so that campus can be a safer and healthier place not just for queer students, but for everybody. To see the faces around the room light up in optimism for the future was heartwarming, and it would not have happened if it weren’t for the encouragement of the ACT UP members. So if there are any members reading this, I would like you to know that as a group and as individuals we greatly appreciate you sacrificing your time to meet with us, because you have inspired us to work harder than ever before to fight for what we need. I hope to keep in touch with you throughout the years, and I also sure hope that you inspire the young activists you will meet in next summer’s study abroad team.

After long and heartfelt goodbyes, we left the LGBT Center to visit the New York Public Library. While we waited for our appointment, the group found entertainment with taking picture of the deathly skinny stone lions and exploring their creative sides at the free art table outside.


Seriously, the person feeding him needs to be replaced immediately.


Once we entered, I was surprised to see such an exquisite interior. The atmosphere screamed scholarly and formal, which was much different than the Lesbian Herstory Archives we visited earlier this week. And unlike the Herstory Archives we were not allowed to examine the materials in person (we were shown a digital slideshow of some objects), and upon further research I found that accessing the material in the Gay and Lesbian archives within the NYPL proved to be complicated. I honestly find this a shame since who knows how much of our history is waiting to be uncovered. For example, we were presented a video about DiAna DiAna, who was a hairdresser that was dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV in her South Carolina community. A black woman started a campaign that provided safe sex information to thousands of people within and possibly beyond her community, and there is no doubt that without her HIV would have spread throughout South Carolina much more quickly and effectively. Yet I have never heard of her before visiting the NYPL. Increasing accessibility to this sort of material within the NYPL would empower people of color within the LGBTQ community and enable us to write a history in which people of color get the recognition they deserve. This information shouldn’t be restricted to “important” scholars, but it needs to make public.


At least we got our fair share of leather daddies.


Yet, judging from the presentation, it’s still amazing that someone bothered to store this information, given that many other would have happily destroyed it. So that counts for something.

After a brief tour of the library we were set free to roam the city as we young millennials were born to do. I accompanied my friend Alex (who wrote the amazing blog post before mine) to get her second tattoo. She got hers of an upside down triangle, to both represent ACT UP’s activism and to reclaim it as a positive symbol, as in the Holocaust a black triangle labeled someone who was “asocial”, which included lesbians due to their refusal to be intimate with the oh-so strong German men and become Aryan baby makers. Despite it’s simplicity, I find the tattoo powerful, especially since Alex had to go through a fair amount of pain to acquire it. My, you should have seen her poor face!


The resolution of this picture doesn’t do this justice, but still a rad tattoo.


It was after that we decided to get dessert and I had the misfortune of eating the Nutella macaroon. But I won’t go into that.

Even though I introduced my post with the ups and downs statement, Thursday had more ups and downs. But I think it’s about time for us to leave New York City. Given that I had to be hospitalized and Alex’s cab got rear ended,  maybe the city is trying to kick us out. Oh well, to Paris we go!

I’ll be sure to avoid the macaroons there.


Or else I’ll end up like this again.

One thought on “Health and Activism with a Side Dish of Macaroons”

  1. Jen,

    This is a great blog post. Personal and powerful. I am proud of the passion you have to make this world a better place. I am more proud that you are my daughter and I know you will make it happen.

    Thanks to Dr. Pitts and Terri Wilder for being there and taking care of J. Thanks to her friends on the trip for supporting her.

    Onto Paris, continue to learn, have fun and be safe!


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