Section: News

Activist talks public health, human rights

Activist talks public health, human rights

Mike Frick ’08 discusses “the right to science” in presentation

On April 17 and 18, R. Todd Ruppert Associate Professor of International Studies Stephen Van Holde looked on with pride as his former student, Mike Frick ’08, gave two talks on human rights, public health and scientific innovation. 

Frick, who graduated from Kenyon with Highest Honors in International Studies, is now a researcher and activist working for the public health think tank Treatment Action Group, where he researches disease prevention, vaccine development and cures for infectious diseases like hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

“Many of our students, both in [International Studies] and across the College, are interested in public health issues, and so we wanted to bring in a speaker who could address those issues,” Van Holde wrote in an email to the Collegian. “And because many College lectures are from academics, we wanted to bring in someone who had experience in the policy and activism areas.”

Frick’s talk on the evening of April 17 focused on human rights and global health equity through the lens of tuberculosis, which, according to Van Holde, has killed more than “HIV/AIDS, smallpox, malaria, influenza, cholera and plague combined.”

He discussed how tuberculosis has been construed as a “poor people’s disease,” and how, as a result, people in wealthier countries can afford to ignore its devastating toll. Frick said this disparity incites questions about the intersection between human rights and health equity — which is what he and other activists are working to address.

On the morning of April 18, Frick talked about the “right to science” and how those with privilege benefit disproportionately from scientific innovation. He contended that research policies should align with human rights policies, meaning that scientists and researchers should be held accountable for making sure new innovations in fighting infectious diseases are distributed equally to the public. He said that people on the ground have a right to these scientific advances as well.   

Justin Clark ’19, who attended the talk, said he was impressed by Frick’s ability to translate abstract concepts into application. “It was very accessible; it was interesting to people who are coming at it from a lot of different perspectives, and it’s always really helpful to see how abstract concepts you learn about in the classroom are applicable in the real world,” he said.

Both Van Holde and Clark agreed that Frick’s talks were accessible and that he handled complex topics with ease. “Although they involved some fairly thorny concepts from public health and human rights, Mike explained them all with such clarity that even the most difficult ones were easily comprehensible,” Van Holde said. 

Van Holde also said he was happy with the turnout, which he estimated at about 30-35 people per event. He noted that several students approached him afterwards to tell him how much they enjoyed the talks.

The International Studies Program plans to increase its focus on human rights through events and programs. While the major’s public health course offerings are “less extensive,” Van Holde said the program is hard at work to expand classes in this field as well.


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