Community addresses implications of new presidential administration

Dean Michelle Williams speaks during the town hall meeting.

February 7, 2017 — The administration of President Donald Trump is likely to have a wide-ranging effect on a variety of public health policies, said Dean Michelle Williams, ScD ’91, during a school-wide town hall meeting on Friday, February 3, 2017. Williams told a crowd of students, faculty, and staff, that decisions in Washington, D.C. will have key implications for policies related to immigration, refugees, women’s health, reproductive rights, climate science, environmental health, health policy, and access to health care. The meeting was convened in the wake of an executive order on immigration that placed travel restrictions on refugees and immigrants.

“We are here because we feel that our core values as public health scholars, as scientists, and as humanitarians are threatened,” Williams said. “Scientific evidence has become devalued in the minds of many Americans. Facts themselves have become politicized. And we have seen increasing incidents of hateful speech and violent behavior across the country.”

Williams said that the Harvard Chan School is committed to remaining a place of learning, scholarship, science, and innovation, adding that School and Harvard University leadership are working to support and help vulnerable members of the community.

Williams urged those in attendance to harness the energy of the moment and defend important values, “I encourage you to ground your actions not just in your moral convictions, but also in your knowledge as scientists. Fight misinformation and injustice with well-reasoned arguments and hard evidence. And take care not to feed a narrative in which science is dismissed as merely one interest group among many.”

Jennifer Leaning, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights , told the crowd to consider lessons from the past.

The audience also heard from Jennifer Leaning, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, who told the crowd to consider lessons from the past as they try to make change and influence policy. “Discern moral turning points and practice how you will face them,” Leaning said. “Ideas, unlike events, are never unprecedented. So look to the past.”

Noah Leavitt

Photos: Sarah Sholes