Last Wednesday, Chelsea Clinton came to campus as the keynote speaker for the Kenneth Cole Community Engagement Forum. The event drew in more RSVPs than could realistically be accommodated, but Bwog’s Heather Akumiah had VIP seating just in case you guys got turned down at the door.
The Kenneth Cole Community Engagement Program is a partnership between Columbia and notable fashion designer, Kenneth Cole, that focuses on fostering community engagement and leadership skills in students. Twelve students chosen for the fellowship take seminars that train them in community development, then participate in a community service project for ten weeks over the summer. Chelsea Clinton, who is Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, spoke to the challenges and rewards of community building and social service in her speech.
Clinton, who has a degree from the Mailman School of Public Health, began by discussing the social action initiatives that she is currently involved in with under the Clinton Foundation. She mentioned that in choosing which of the many social issues she wants to tackle, she looks to find what inspires her and what angers her. What angers Clinton now? Childhood diarrhea and the dismal health options in the juvenile justice system.
Today, 750,000 children die each year from diarrhea-induced dehydration. Clinton expressed her frustration about the fact that a disease that was an issue in 1900s America still kills people all around the world in the 21st century. She credits this gap to the lack of large-scale public health intervention—childhood diarrhea was only cured in New York because the Upper East side could not ignore the Lower East side. Today, the people with the means to improve the health of developing countries that don’t have the resources to spearhead their own public health interventions, don’t feel that they have a vested interest in doing so. To address this issue, the Clinton Foundation is working to change the market dynamics around oral rehydration solutions and zinc, and to lower antiretroviral vaccine prices and create a high volume low price market condition.
On the subject of health in the juvenile detention system, Clinton first described the extent to which American children are incarcerated. There are currently 53,000 young people detained in US prisons. American juvenile detention centers have, on average, lower standards than those of adults detention systems. From state to state, there is no consistent standard for how juvenile incarceration, let alone health options in detention centers, should be handled. Clinton emphasized her belief that big changes start with small changes, and that the health of young people starts with them being equipped with the knowledge necessary to make healthy choices. The Clinton Foundation, in partnership with the American Heart Association has created the largest childhood health program in the US. In cooperation with over 20,000 schools. The program works to increase the number of healthy options for free and reduced lunch in public schools, and to increase the number of PE classes offered to students.
At the end of her speech, Chelsea Clinton opened up the floor to questions. She discussed more things that make her angry: amongst them, the price of AIDS vaccines in developing countries, the number of Americans under the supervision of the American justice system, and the lack of female involvement in STEM careers. She encouraged students to work to build communities and be agents of social change where they see fit. Clinton stressed the resources we have available to us as Columbia students: a network of young people who can stay connected and inspire each other.