Brian Williams at Brandeis

As part of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life’s annual Distinguished Visiting Practitioner program, Dr. Brian Williams was in residence at Brandeis during the week of February 9-13, 2009. The program brings leading practitioners to campus for weeklong residencies that combine public lectures, classroom visits, and small-group discussions on topics of current interest to a wide range of students and scholars at Brandeis. Dr. Williams’ residency was hosted by the Center and the Chemistry Department, with lead faculty member Irving Epstein.

Dr. Williams, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization, shared his expertise on public health and infectious diseases, particularly tuberculosis and AIDS, with a wide variety of campus constituents. More than 400 members of the Brandeis community attended one or more of the talks. During his weeklong residency, he spoke to four classes, gave two additional public talks, met with two student clubs, and had several meetings with faculty and students. Dr. Williams spoke with students with the African Forum about the effect of HIV/AIDS on development in the continent. He also met with the Student Global AIDS Campaign, a national student-based organization dedicated to ending the global AIDS pandemic. In addition, he was available for more informal talks with interested students, when he spoke about “A Day In The Life of an AIDS Epidemiologist” and spent time with individual students to discuss careers in his field.

Biologist Larry Wangh met with Dr. Williams to discuss Larry and his colleagues’ work on new testing devices for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. “Thanks to the efforts of Brian Williams from WHO,” Larry wrote, “I have made contact with the top TB person at the Gates Foundation in Seattle to begin a discussion of whether they would support the work of my consortium.”

Dr. Williams presented a thought-provoking keynote address open to the entire campus called “Fighting AIDS in Africa: Public Health vs. Human Rights.” Before his departure, he was a guest in Sarita Bhalotra’s Heller School class on Health and Social Justice and also spoke to students in the anthropology department on how anthropologists and epidemiologists can work together.

Thus, in one week, Dr. Williams interacted with a broad cross-section of the campus on issues involving public health, medicine, epidemiology, development, anthropology, and many other subjects. His visit fulfilled a core mission of the Ethics Center – to bridge scholarship and practice, and enhance dialogue between the worlds of the academy and the professions.

Included among the attendees was Kathleen Rees ’10, a 2009 Ethics Center Student Fellow who will intern this summer in Peru as a public health investigator. Kathleen, who plans to study infectious diseases and epidemiology after her undergraduate work, is just one example of how a noted practitioner visiting Brandeis can inspire students and shape their future pursuits. For her and many other students, as well as faculty and staff, the Distinguished Visiting Practitioner program enriches their Brandeis experience and engages them with the most challenging issues of our times.