Paul Farmer draws crowd of over 1000, speaks on public health disparities

Renowned anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer gave a lecture based upon his well-known mantra, “staff, stuff and systems,” in relation to public health disparities on Friday.

GlobeMed, with help from Student Union, worked to bring Farmer, who is best known through the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” as part of the Student Union Speaker Series.

Free shuttles bussed students from campus to the 560 Music Center beginning at 5:30 pm. By 7 p.m., the concert hall and its 1,115 seats was filled to capacity, with an overflow of students sitting atop windowsills and in the aisles when Farmer took the stage.

Junior Lydia Stump, co-president of GlobeMed, a student group that supports global health equity, was elated to have Farmer speak at WU because of how his work had shaped GlobeMed’s.

“He’s inspired many of us to think critically about allyship, solidarity and various systems of oppression that affect health outcomes,” Stump said. “To have him here, speaking to an audience filled with over 1,200 students, faculty and community members was incredibly inspirational.”

Farmer began the evening with a few jokes, speaking often to his sisters in the front row and expressing his gratitude for having an entire cement block painted announcing his lecture at the Underpass, before delving into an abridged account of his journey from a high school student to the Paul Farmer on stage that night.

Junior Shivani Mitra was excited about Farmer’s approach to public speaking and expressed admiration towards his straightforward style.

“Paul Farmer may not have been the normative wordy and exciting public speaker Wash. U. students expected,” Mitra said. “That’s because he’s not a normal person; in fact he is the most abnormal in that he can speak in such a conversational, matter-of-fact honesty about his selflessness. I was humbled to be there and enjoyed learning with him as he recounted stories from his life and work.”

In high school, Farmer knew that he wanted to be a doctor in West Africa. However, after failing to even secure an interview for a Fulbright scholarship out of high school, Farmer recalled learning an important lesson that he wished to convey to the audience.

“Undergrads, don’t think everything’s going to work out the way you want,” Farmer said. “And then, I got turned down again and again, to volunteer. How’s that for a good start?”

Fortunately for Farmer, these rejections led him to Haiti, and on to Harvard, and onto the rest of his prestigious career. Through a series of serendipitous happenings and pursuing his passion, Farmer finally made it to West Africa—35 years later.

While Farmer spoke about the intricacies and complexities involved in global public health disparities, he also dedicated a lot of time to encouraging the audience to follow their passions and relentlessly pursue them through roadblocks both in and after college.

Freshman Maddie King expressed gratitude towards Farmer’s work and his advice directed towards audience members.

“His integrative practice and dedication to the poor are works I strive to emulate,” King said. “His advice towards undergraduates motivated me to continue pursuing [my] goal.”

You may view the article in its original format here

Alex SiegmanComment