National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities director gives fall Convocation address

By Jasmine Berry

Sunday morning, Hampton University celebrated the beginning of its 143rd academic year with its 68th Fall Convocation. President William R. Harvey, Senior Class President Misha Lawrence and special guest speaker John Ruffin, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, each addressed the crowd of excited parents and the Onyx VIII class.

Lawrence implored Onyx VIII seniors to ask themselves, “Who has Hampton made you? What legacy will you be leaving behind?”

After reminding students of the strides Hampton has made in the past year, such as being the first Historically Black College or University where President Barack Obama delivered a commencement speech, Harvey announced that Hampton is leading the way and urged professors and students to follow suit.

He also advised students – especially the 1,000 freshman chosen from 12,000 applicants – to make wise choices, especially regarding the people students surround themselves with, and remarked, “You know how the player haters are.”

Harvey then proceeded to introduce Ruffin, who received his B.S. in Biology from Dillard University, his M.S. in Biology from Atlanta University, a Ph.D. in Systematic and Developmental Biology from Kansas State University and completed post-doctoral studies in biology at Harvard University.

Ruffin encouraged students to turn their lives “into a meaningful narrative,” asserting that “Your goal as students is not only to make it to graduation, but you have a legacy to create.”

Ruffin illustrated the significance of the new Hampton University Skin of Color Research Institute by discussing the imbalance of medical health in our country. “Disparities in health are reflections of disparities elsewhere,” he said. The life expectancy for African-Americans is significantly less than that of Caucasians due to lower income averages. Income level and life expectancy, said Ruffin go hand in hand.

Ruffin cited disparities in the workplace as one of the most important health challenges, and said that “lack of control and the stress it engenders has severe health consequences. I am hopeful that this is an area Hampton’s various health sciences can explore. Ultimately, health disparities are collections of injustices in our society.”

Ruffin called for more students to enter the field of science and go into health disparities research to find cures for the epidemic of prostate cancer among African-American males.

“I know of no other university in the country without a medical school,” he said, “that has the facility that you have to change prostate cancer in America.” Ruffin had acknowledged the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, the eighth and largest U.S. facility, said HU officials, which began treating patients last month.

The writer is a junior at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.