Joia Mukherjee, Doctor of Science

Joia Mukherjee–physician, professor, human rights activist, inspirational speaker, chief medical officer of Partners in Health–you are a woman with a fierce mind and an equally fierce heart.

When you were eight, you traveled to your father’s native India. The poverty you witnessed there never left you, searing itself into your consciousness and becoming your fuel for changing the world. After growing up in Huntington, New York, you studied at the University of Michigan where you received your undergraduate degree in chemistry, and cellular and molecular biology. You then earned your medical degree from the University of Minnesota, and completed your residency at Massachusetts General Hospital with training in infectious diseases, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Along the way, you also earned a graduate degree in public health from Harvard University. Soon you became an associate professor of medicine in the division of Global Health Equity at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston as well as an associate professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. As a researcher, you have concentrated on the medical complexities of HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis, and have coauthored countless articles including studies of infectious diseases, child mortality rates, and PTSD among Haitian immigrant students.

In 2000, you joined forces with Paul Farmer and others to become the chief medical officer of Partners in Health, the international nonprofit organization focused on reducing global health disparities. Partners in Health has a clear mission: “We go. We make house calls. We build health systems. We stay.” And you stayed, working around the world in some of the most desperate, heart-breaking—and uplifting—places on earth: Haiti, Lesotho, Peru, Mexico, Russia, Rwanda, Malawi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Navajo Nation in the United States. It is no wonder you have been recognized for your work with honorary degrees, and awards including the Hero of Humanity citation from Heifer International and the Drapkin Award for Humanism in Medicine from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

You wrote, “We won’t win every battle. We won’t save every child. But together we can be the standard bearers of human dignity by being present in humility and in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable individuals, families, and communities.” As you put it, we need to work toward a “softening of society.” The softening you call for is not one borne out of compassion alone. It is also borne out of justice. You are indeed fierce: fierce about eradicating disease, fierce about ending poverty, fierce about extending human rights. Your life has shown that fierceness and softness are not antonyms. To you, softness in action is justice.

For your tireless work bringing equitable health care to the world’s neediest communities, for your impassioned stand on equality, and for showing us that justice can indeed soften the world, Mount Holyoke College is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.