Hanover, NH—Dr. Holly Atkinson's experiences in human rights work over the past 25 years have given her reason to be both deeply troubled and incredibly hopeful. Last week, at a symposium organized by the Geisel chapter of Physicians for Human Rights, she discussed both ends of the spectrum, from the worries that keep her up at night to the people who have inspired her.
The symposium, titled "Removing The Blinders On Gender Inequity," was hosted by medical students but involved members of the many different communities at Dartmouth, from undergraduates to graduate students at Tuck and Geisel to faculty. Atkinson, the keynote speaker, is a past president of Physicians for Human Rights and an assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
"Why do gender and sexual orientation give us so much trouble?" Atkinson asked. In search of an answer, she addressed a range of topics, such as the evolutionary biology of sex and gender, the pervasiveness of pornography, and the use of sexual violence as a weapon during war.
Atkinson was introduced to the audience by Anne-Laure Dassier, a second-year medical student and a co-chair of the Geisel PHR chapter. Dassier opened by reading from Maya Angelou's poem "Equality," which includes the lines "Take the blinders from your vision, / take the padding from your ears, / and confess you've heard me crying, / and admit you've seen my tears."
One of the goals of the symposium, Dassier says, was to get people talking about gender equality. "People often think that so much progress has been made in gender equity," she says. "And that's true. There has been a lot of progress. But I think the symposium is an opportunity to shine light on more subtle gender equity issues in everyday life."
Spencer James, also a second-year medical student and co-chair with Dassier of the Geisel PHR chapter, agrees about the importance of making people aware of the persistence of gender inequity. "Some of these issues have been a topic of discussion at Dartmouth in the past year or two, so I think that it's a good time to have a forum for people to ask questions and hear from insightful leaders."
Following Atkinson's talk, other sessions included discussions of the relationship between business and human rights and of stereotypes about gender orientation. On Saturday, the symposium concluded with a screening of the film Wadjda, about a young girl in Saudi Arabia whose wish to buy a bike clashes with social expectations.
Both James and Dassier believe that these issues are particularly relevant for medical students. "Part of being a physician is looking at other people's lives through a lens where you're not just providing medical treatment, you're also looking out for their general good," James says. "Alongside providing medical care and being a scientist, you're also an advocate for people who are suffering in any way."
Dassier says she has no illusions that the symposium alone will change the world. But she hopes that encouraging people at Dartmouth and elsewhere to continue to discuss these issues—to remove the blinders from their eyes—will make the persistence of gender inequity harder to ignore.
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