Paul Farmer, a renowned medical anthropologist, humanitarian and founder of Partners in Health, received an honorary doctorate degree from University of Richmond after speaking on campus Wednesday night. 

Over 640 students, faculty, staff and community members filled the Alice Jepson Theatre and two overflow rooms to see this year's Weinstein-Rosenthal Forum speaker. Past speakers included Elie Wiesel and Michael Sandel.

“Dr. Farmer has been on our wish list for several years now,” Molly Field, community engagement program manager, said. “The goal is to raise awareness about the fact that many people don’t have health care, especially in third world countries and even here in the United States."

Farmer discussed his humanitarian work in Haiti and West Africa, emphasizing global activism and the necessity of serving a common good.

Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health, rebuilt an academic medical center. A 12-year-old boy who was brought to the hospital a few months ago recovered from a life-threatening medical emergency because of the work Farmer and his organization did six years prior, he said.

“You can’t do this by magic,” Farmer said. “You need ongoing investments.” In all of his projects, Farmer has focused on establishing institutions run by local community members in order to make more permanent differences.

Farmer never considers himself an expert on the cultures he becomes involved with. 

“I think it’s been a mistake to suggest that we can acquire cultural competence,” he said. “We need to think about cultural humility instead. This is what will allow us to understand what we don’t understand."

In addition to the evening lecture, Farmer also met with students during a lunch discussion and afternoon tea. 

Farmer "meets with students, compels young graduates to action and joins in frank discussions with communities about the problems facing our society," Crutcher said while presenting him with the honorary doctorate.

Though Farmer focused his speech on his work in West Africa and Haiti, audience members, such as Richmond resident Judith Koziol, saw parallels to the United States.

“His speech inspired me to push more for social justice as well as to not ignore the cry of others,” Hilary Fowka, a Westhampton College student, said, echoing Koziol. “I think we can sometimes be a very selfish society, which is something we need to move away from.”

Farmer signed copies of his book and spoke to audience members after the event.

“The stories and experiences Dr. Farmer shared really reinforced my desire to go to med school and make a difference in the world," Mallory Haskins, a freshman, said.

Although the stories Farmer shared came from his experiences with poverty, inequality and destitution, he remains optimistic.

“I see problems in our world and I’m anguished, but I also know that we have the power to change that,” he said.

Contact reporter Claire Mendelson at claire.mendelson@richmond.edu