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Joyce Millen: Bringing Africa to Willamette

New anthropology Professor Joyce Millen arrived in Senegal, Africa, at age 22 and, in a sense, never left. She spent her formative adult years with an adopted family, carrying vegetables to market atop her head and pulling water from wells. Her African friends sold peanuts and fruit to make ends meet. When times were bad, the ends didn't meet. That's what mobilized Millen to embark on her life's work as an advocate for impoverished people around the globe. Her deepest connections are to Africa.

Before joining the Willamette faculty, Millen directed the Institute for Health and Social Justice at Harvard Medical School in Boston, where she helped write blueprints for aid foundations and white papers for Congress. While there, she co-authored two landmark books, Dying for Growth and Global AIDS, which examine how and why poor people are often harmed in the wake of economic globalization.

But when Millen's daughter was born, Boston suddenly felt like the wrong fit. In her search for options, Willamette stood out. "The university's humanitarian outreach was what brought me here," she says. She wants to work with students and colleagues who share her idealism.

Millen will continue to advocate for global health from Willamette. Granted, it's a long way from Washington, D.C., where she grew up, and a longer way from Africa, but she sees fertile ground here. She hopes to share her passion for social justice with upcoming generations of students.

"To me, it's all about fairness--who gets health care and life-saving drugs, and who doesn't," she says, noting that the people who need greater access are precisely those least likely to attain it. "While life expectancy in wealthy countries continues to climb, it is plummeting elsewhere.

"The countries experiencing the greatest declines in life expectancy are in Africa," she says, "but Africa is not some outpost disconnected from the rest of us. We live in an interconnected world, and Africa's survival depends more than ever on our collective ability to care."

Millen and Amadou Fofana, assistant professor of French and a native of Senegal who also joined the Willamette faculty this fall, will work to establish an African studies program on campus. "We hope to bring Africa to Willamette and to the entire Salem community," Millen says.

Book Excerpt
(Taken from the introductory chapter of Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor.)

... The photographer who took the little girl's picture met her while walking on the edge of a garbage dump not far from a major urban center in Central America. The girl held a tattered book in her hand. She asked the photographer if he would please teach her how to read. She beckoned for him to follow her into the mountains of garbage.

Stumbling over mangled tires, skidding on piles of cans, and breathing the sour odors of decaying waste, the photographer and his guide reached a clearing on the side of a small hill. It took a moment for the photographer to grasp that he had just entered the girl's home. The walls of her home and the implements of her survival were quite literally garbage: the refuse of other people's more privileged existence.

Dying for Growth asks about the causes and consequences of the discrepancy between this girl's life and the lives of those whose waste she dwells in, wears, and eats.

Global AIDS: Myths and Facts (2003), co-written by Millen, presents tools for agencies, foundations and individuals to address the AIDS pandemic. The book has been translated into several languages and serves as a blueprint for global health activists and health workers around the world.

Dying for Growth: Global Inequality and the Health of the Poor (2000), co-authored and edited by Millen, explores the relationship between our current global economy and the health of impoverished people across the globe.