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On April 2, Washtenaw Community College was honored to host former Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Regina Benjamin as a featured speaker at an event recognizing Diversity Month and Women’s History Month. The event was sponsored by WCC’s recently formed Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and the President’s Office, and was made possible through a partnership with the National Center for Institutional Diversity at the University of Michigan.

The title of the event was “Advancing the Health of Our Communities Through Diversity and Inclusion.” Arnett Chisholm, WCC’s Dean of Admissions and Student Life and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, introduced Benjamin at the event.

“It is so important for communities to recognize how important diversity is,” Benjamin stated early in her remarks. She applauded WCC for its focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. She shared a number of stories of her own experiences interacting with a broad spectrum of populations, including patients in need at the clinic she founded in rural Alabama. She stressed that in addressing issues of diverse populations, “It isn’t about the color of people’s skin, it’s about allowing people to maintain their dignity.”

Benjamin expressed that as Surgeon General and throughout her career, she has been committed to issues of wellness and prevention.  “The best way to treat sickness and disease is to prevent it by focusing on health and wellness at every stage of life,” she stated.

She shared details of the National Prevention Strategy, a landmark initiative that she helped to lead and implement during her term as Surgeon General. A key part of that strategy is educating and empowering people and communities to make healthy choices.

Benjamin talked about the strong correlations between education level and health, noting that the more education a person receives, the more likely he or she is leading a healthy lifestyle. She cited data indicating a direct correlation between education levels and longevity.

After her remarks, Benjamin engaged in conversation with the audience and answered questions on topics ranging from e-cigarettes, the Affordable Care Act, how to encourage young people to pursue careers in the sciences, and the importance of cultural competency for educators and health care workers. A reception followed where Benjamin continued to meet and greet attendees.

The event was open to all WCC students, staff, and faculty. Members of the community, including local health care workers, attended as well.

Benjamin was appointed by President Barack Obama as the 18th United States Surgeon General in July 2009 and served a four-year term. Before becoming “America’s Doctor,” she served her patients at the rural health clinic she founded in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, keeping the clinic in operation despite damage and destruction inflicted by Hurricanes Georges in 1998 and Katrina in 2005 and a devastating fire in 2006.

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force is planning additional events for 2014-15 and will be seeking input from faculty and staff on potential activities in the near future.