Physicians for Human Rights National Student Conference to be held at the College this weekend

by Megan Clyne | 11/4/16 12:42am

The Physicians for Human Rights National Student Conference is being held at the College this weekend.

This year’s conference will center around the theme “Violence against Difference,” emphasizing how perceptions of difference affect human rights ethics and outcomes. The lectures and breakout sessions will focus specifically on gender violence, racial violence and violence against healthcare workers.

Emily Georges G’19 and Thomas Kuczmarski G’19 ­— who serve on the national Physicians for Human Rights Conference Student Advisory Board — co-organized the event.

Georges and Kuczmarski said that the national conference aims to encourage lecturers and attendees to examine the initiation and propagation of violence, adding that they hope the conference will produce solutions to counter these asymmetries and address issues of inequality and brutality.

Established in 1986, Physicians for Human Rights is a national organization that focuses on the intersection of science and human rights, using the former to call attention to the latter.

A chapter of the national organization exists at the College. For the past seven years, students organized a local version of the national Physicians for Human Rights conference. Last year, this conference focused on refugee health, and Georges and Kuczmarski were both involved in planning the event. Georges and Kuczmarski agreed that the conference was one of the most informative aspects of their introduction to medicine, and a highlight of their first year at medical school. The experience prompted them to become more involved in this year’s conference.

Georges and Kuczmarski chose the conference theme to emphasize the general targeting of minority populations, particularly with regards to the Orlando shooting. Several factors beyond the realm of medicine influenced the pair’s choice.

In the planning stages, Georges and Kuczmarski contacted different departments at the College, including the anthropology; women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the African and African-American studies, encouraging professors to participate by citing the relationship between social factors and medicine.

Anthropology professor Chelsey Kivland will open the conference on Saturday. Her address will focus on structural violence, a term that refers to unrest intrinsically built into the framework of society, and the uneven distribution of resources and wealth.

Kivland said that structural violence is a useful way to get people to think about larger issues of racism, poverty, sexism, social policies and illiteracy rates. She added that she will also speak on the limitation of structural violence, and offer more empowering terms for victims.

In addition to Kivland, conference speakers will include the Doctors Without Borders board of directors president John Lawrence, women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor at Ohio State University Treva Lindsey, orthopedic surgery professor at Northwestern University Samer Attar and Africana studies professor at Williams College Joy James.