Arthur Robinson Williams IV, known to all as Robin, is a young man of multiple talents and prodigious energy, which he put to excellent use during his ReachOut '56 Fellowship – creating a body of work which continues to have real impact today.
Robin, a native of North Carolina, excelled at Princeton in the Woodrow Wilson School, demonstrating (in the words of one faculty member) "an intense work ethic coupled with an astonishing self-discipline." He was also (in the view of his Visual Arts professor ) "our best and most accomplished photographer. . . .with an approach that is socially sensitive and at the same time visually brilliant," and "a prodigious gift as an image-maker." Another member of the faculty called Robin "absolutely the most sincere and 'public interest' dedicated human being I have encountered among Princeton students" –someone who "will be an amazing force – make that an irresistible and irrepressible force – for good in this world."
Robin combined all these talents in his Fellowship to create Unacceptable Losses, a photo-based education campaign documenting drugs and addiction nationwide. Here's Robin's description of what he did:
"I traveled the country for a year, visiting 25 states, photographing and interviewing hundreds of Americans affected by or involved with drugs and drug policy. Unacceptable Losses was designed to help support the efforts of Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's leading non-profit organization calling for more humane drug policies.
Class of 2004
"The impetus behind Unacceptable Losses lies with my interest in medicine and public health and a dedication to underserved and marginalized communities. The foundation for its success, however, comes from four years at Princeton; learning from national experts and legendary photographers, volunteering through the Student Volunteers Council and the Princeton Justice Project, and tying my academic work to community interests through student initiatives. "Unacceptable Losses, through exhibits, articles and the web (www.Unacceptablelosses.org), emphasizes the humane and economic advantages of a public health emphasis rather than a law enforcement emphasis when dealing with addiction."
"We have criminalized a disease. The causes of drug addiction are myriad and complex. Our response to this social ill must be equally dynamic and engaging. I have found no evidence that incarcerating those with drug addictions in overcrowded prisons stripped of virtually any rehabilitative services has helped our nation's communities. However, there is overwhelming evidence that embracing those with addictive disorders as individuals and helping to support their efforts at drug cessation through accessible treatment programs, harm reduction based outreach efforts, and sustainable housing and job assistance has a far greater reach than a prison cell ever will."
Unacceptable Losses was featured at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Convention in Chicago as part of the national medical student art show. The full exhibit is slated to be held at the Woodrow Wilson School's Bernstein Gallery at the end of this year (opening December 2nd).
The Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelman, whom Robin considers the most well-known advocate for drug policy reform in the nation, has this to say about our Fellow:
"Robin has successfully taken a difficult to photograph subject and produced dozens of compelling portraits. . . . It is easy -- and tempting — to photograph the horrors of drug abuse, but far more challenging to document the war on drugs itself, and yet more difficult to document the alternative policies that the Drug Policy Alliance promotes. We expect negative imagery when it comes to drugs, and it's not surprising given that the sensational values of an abscess covered arm is far greater than that of a sterile methadone maintenance clinic, Robin eschews this sensationalistic and negative imagery and instead reveals the human dignity of those most affected by the war on drugs and those working hardest to end it. It is just this sort of project that will most help Americans to better understand the day-to-day consequences of the war on drugs for real people, and make them sympathetic to and supportive of more pragmatic and compassionate alternatives. By posting his work and documentation on an equally stunning website, Robin is able to make the emotion behind these issues more broadly accessible."
After his Fellowship year, Robin enrolled in medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, winning a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. He has continued to work on social issues, including organizing city residents and students in support of citywide smoke-free legislation and improving the nutritional environment at the Children's Hospital, CHOP. Robin graduated from Penn Med in 2010 (having earned a Master in Bioethics at Penn in 2008) and is now a resident in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU.
When asked about his future, Robin replied: "The experience with my Reach Out ’56 Fellowship played a significant role in guiding my decision to go into the field of psychiatry within medicine. The year I spent interviewing drug abusers and policymakers nationwide has informed my clinical practice and frames the work I do now on a daily basis."
The Reach Out '56 Fellowship, in Robin's words, "offered an incredible opportunity to build on work I had pursued in college, get to know Americans across the country, and prepare for a career in public service. . . . A Reach Out '56 fellowship is a truly exceptional award as it allows recipients to assist non-profits in innovative wayswhile at the same time exploring personal intellectual and creative interests. I often thinkabout how influential my fellowship was in setting a solid foundation for approachingmedical school and working with patients."