Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Elizabeth Outka


The AIDS epidemic in 1980s and 1990s America can—and must—be read not simply as an epidemic of disease, but also as an epidemic of hateful discourse that perpetuated the damaging perceptions of HIV/AIDS and those it most severely impacted. The onset of an epidemic has a way of unmooring society from the structures that it has built itself on. The indiscriminate spread of a deadly disease exposes, amplifies, and unsettles divisions of class, race, sexuality, gender, and perceived morality. In the sensory experience of living through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a virus may seem to take on an almost magical component, able to pass through divisions and infiltrate not only the boundaries of the human body, but also the intangible nature of how we perceive the world. Historically, humans don’t like to accept random selection, wanting to find meaning and causality for devastation. Disease itself is beyond human motivations, usually not able to discriminate or choose specific enemies. In the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, scapegoating emerged as a way of imposing order on this chaos of contagion, assigning blame to the very “risk groups” being decimated by the virus—namely gay and bisexual men. The contagion of public perception was thus inextricably tied to the physical damages of disease, linking the bodily and affective experiences of those living through the delirium of AIDS.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 20, 2025