Hobart and William Smith Colleges welcomed internationally renowned expert on AIDS, Dr. Christopher C. Beyrer ’81, as keynote speaker for Convocation 2014. Beyrer’s life-saving work advancing public health and human rights has changed perceptions and behaviors, and improved the health of individuals, communities and countries around the world. Convocation was held on Monday, Sept. 1 on Stern Lawn.
“As one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, Dr. Beyrer seamlessly combines the fields of medicine, sociology, politics, religion, economics and human rights,” says President Mark D. Gearan. “At the heart of his work is the notion that by looking at challenges like HIV through multiple perspectives and by treating individuals and communities with respect, change can result on a massive scale. Dr. Beyrer has committed himself to advocacy and serves as a powerful role model for our students.”
Beyrer is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, with joint appointments in epidemiology, international health, and health, behavior and society. He serves as director of the Johns Hopkins Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program and as founder and director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins. He has provided fellowships for more than 1,400 international scholars in HIV/AIDS prevention, research and treatment.
“What an inspired choice Chris Beyrer is to kick off the new school year as the Convocation speaker,” says Professor of Public Policy Craig Rimmerman. “He is someone who has used his Hobart College education in the best of ways by being on the frontier of global HIV/AIDS research now for many, many years. What a role model Dr. Beyrer is for all of our students and for all of us in the HWS community.”
With extensive experience in international collaborative research and training programs in HIV/AIDS, infectious disease epidemiology, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) prevention research, HIV vaccine preparedness, and human rights, he currently has research and/or training activities in Thailand, China, Burma, India, Laos, Malawi, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, and the U.S. At HWS, Beyrer is one of the founding advisory board members of the Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men, which was established in 1998.
“His significant work on HIV/AIDS, public health and human rights, and his commitment to making sexuality central to public health and human rights globally fit beautifully with the mission of the Fisher Center and its interdisciplinary and cross-curricular focus on intersections of gender, sexuality, race and class,” says Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer, who worked with Beyrer when she directed the Fisher Center.
“Chris devoted time and thought to the direction of the Fisher Center and its place in our community and in liberal arts education. He saw the many ways higher education may intervene in problems of health and rights, and how in liberal arts institutions, Centers, such as the Fisher Center, serve vital roles as they can step in to raise and to create critical dialogue on significant questions of the moment. He prompted me, and I think many others, to reflect on the scholar, researcher and teacher — and so The Fisher Center, too — as activist (that is, open, active participation and striving).”
Beyrer has focused much of his research on the epidemiology of HIV in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Previously, he served as field director (1992 through 1997) for the Thai PAVE and HIVNET studies based in the Chiang Mai province. In recognition of these efforts, he received an honorary doctorate in health science from Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand in 2012. The award was given by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn during the commencement ceremonies. Born in Berne, Switzerland, and raised on Long Island, Beyrer followed his father – Dr. Charles R. Beyrer ’56 – to Hobart. The younger Beyrer majored in history, graduated cum laude and was elected Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s in history from Hobart in 1981, and spending time in Asia studying Buddhism, Beyrer went on to earn his M.D. at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he first encountered AIDS among the large Haitian population as well as the city’s gay population. He went on to earn his MPH at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
He is author of more than 190 papers and the author or editor of six books, including “War in the Blood: Sex, Politics and AIDS in Southeast Asia.” He has testified before the Senate and House of Representatives regarding HIV, AIDS and human rights, and has served as a consultant with organizations including the Open Society Institute, the Institute for Asian Democracy, the World Bank Institute, the Office for AIDS Research at National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, the Royal Thai Army, and numerous other organizations. He serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is the chair of the Injecting Drug Use Working Group of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), and is president of the International AIDS Society, the world’s largest body of HIV professionals.
In 2013, Beyrer was bestowed the Hobart Medal of Excellence, the Hobart College Alumni Association’s highest honor.