Jocelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, visited Western on February 7. A student session was held in the Grandroom of the UC, as well as a session open for the public that night in the Ramsey Center.
Elders is the last of three speakers in the Chancellor’s Speaker Series for the 2001-02 academic year.
Elders was the first African-American woman to hold the post of the US Surgeon General. She was fired after 15 months on the job in the wake of controversial remarks regarding masturbation and distribution of condoms to teenagers, and continued her professional career at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine.
During the student session, WCU students had the chance to ask Ms. Elders questions on different issues that concerned them. She spoke mainly on healthcare and education. Elders said she feels very strongly about healthcare, but wants people to “get over their love affair for the fetus and start taking care of the children.” On September 11th, Elders was in Cuba learning about their healthcare system.
In comparison to the United States, Elders said, “Cuba has a healthcare system; we have a very expensive sick care system.” It’s disturbing that “not all sick babies have a right to a doctor, and yet all prisoners have a constitutional right to an attorney.”
Elders also mentioned how America spends more money than any other country, but it’ s not on things that will preserve our country for the future, such as resources and environmental protection of our wildlife, as well as our wetlands.
Tiffany, a senior here at Western, asked Elders her opinion on whether or not chewing tobacco is safer than cigarettes. Her response was a fact that a lot of people on this campus are already aware of, being that “nicotine is addictive.”
Elders also informed the people of some interesting statistics many are not aware of. Three-thousand young people begin to smoke cigarettes every day. If you haven’t started by age 19, you’re likely not to. One-thousand will die from their addiction, and more than 400,000 people die every year form cigarette smoking. Yet, Elders commented, our government is still subsidizing tobacco products.
What pleased many students in the crowd was Elders’ opinion on marijuana. She supports it being used for medicinal purposes, and supports the decriminalization of marijuana. She feels it should be “treated like we treat alcohol.” Giving people a criminal record for it is just for the government’s pleasure, Elders commented.
Education was stressed during both sessions that day because Elders, like many others, feels it is very necessary for teachers, as well as ourselves, to educate each other.
“Education is an investment; prison is an expense,” Elders said. When asked what she would teach in schools, Elders mentioned a few of many, for instance good nutrition, self-esteem, and how there are certain places on the body that nobody is supposed to touch. Twenty-five percent of women and sixteen percent of men have been abused before age eighteen. Elders commented that without guidance from adults, children will not succeed to their full potential and will be left settling for less than they should.
As a private citizen, Elders continues to lobby tirelessly for the health needs of the young, poor and the powerless. A pediatric endocrinologist, Elders speaks frequently of her deep concern for the welfare of children, and she believes that violence, sexually transmitted diseases, poverty and substance abuse are the biggest threats to the health and welfare of the nation’s children. Jocelyn Elders left all those present with words of wisdom first said by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Be something, do something, and leave something.”