On Sunday, March 5, I watch Chelsea Clinton emerge from behind the heavy drapes of Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center ballroom, where she’s hosting the 2023 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting. She’s sporting a CGI U white T-shirt with light-washed denim jeans, frayed perfectly at the ends. Her sneakers offer her a bit of a playful bounce on the ballroom’s carpeted floor. She’s in her comfort couture and I am a bit overdressed.
I’m with my other Her Campus Vanderbilt correspondents. We each introduce ourselves, and with a kind demeanor, Clinton asks us, “What year are all of you?” I, for some unknown reason, decide to go with “third-year.” Clinton’s eyebrows scrunch. I already messed up, I think. “Is there a difference between third-year and junior?” she questions. Reader, I’m so nervous, it feels like I’m at confession with my priest. “That’s just how I say it on my LinkedIn, so I went with that.” Her eyebrows relax, a slight grin arises, and she and her entourage let out a few chuckles.
CGI U is an annual meeting where students from across the globe convene to present innovative ways to tackle some of the world’s largest issues, like food insecurity and reproductive health education. “Everyone who comes to CGI U already is doing or wants to do something very concrete. It’s not ephemeral. It’s not something that’s hazy; it has real structure and substance to it,” Clinton says. “That facilitates more productive, catalytic, and supportive conversations about how to get that done, how to work together, and how to build together.”
As we talk about specific CGI U projects from the organization’s inception in 2007, Clinton shares her love for one called Think Of Us – a fight towards breaking the walls within the foster care system. The startup organization, run by founder Sixto Cancel, helps “foster youth navigate forward as they [graduate] from the foster care program,” Clinton says. “I’ve always loathed that frame of graduation. Graduation is something that you all will have as an affirmative sign for what you’ve done in your time at Vanderbilt. I really loathe when it is a word applied to people.” After almost a decade of work, the organization has expanded their reach across the country and also offers virtual support.
Clinton also mentions a more recent project in our conversation. “I met two Vanderbilt students last night who are committing to installing sunscreen dispensers around the campus. It seems to be one of those things, ‘Why don’t those exist already?’ I asked them, and they said to their knowledge, there are only two beach communities in the United States that have public sunscreen dispensers, and they want to make sunscreen dispensers on college campuses as common as hand sanitizer.”
After my questions on the CGI U programs, Clinton chats more casually with myself and the other HC Vanderbilt correspondents. The conversation flows until we somehow land on cavities. “I’ve never had a cavity. This is something I’m absurdly proud of. This is one of the only things I really brag about,” says the only child of the Clinton family. As a student currently pursuing the pre-dental track, I’m struck with interest. I blurt out, “I’m sorry, I’m still stuck on the fact that you’ve never had a cavity before. You’re telling me you’ve never ever, ever, had a cavity before?” Clinton jolts her hands out enthusiastically and acknowledges her accomplishment. “Yes! I just turned 43 on Feb. 27 and I’m very proud of myself. Let’s talk about this.”
Since May 2021, I have been interning at a pediatric dental office, and I’ve seen the complexities and flaws of the dental health care system firsthand — especially the divide within dental insurance. There is a clear separating point between differing income levels, and the system is never afraid to target the lower-income populations. While I’m ecstatic to hear about Clinton’s lack of cavities, I ask what her take on dental health care is, more specifically on the global scale.
“There’s not a lot of insurance coverage in many countries,” she says. “Dental care is constantly excluded. People have to buy supplemental dental care and pay for it out-of-pocket. I think we need to do a better job … oral health and dental health is not separate from physical health. I’m using my mouth to talk to you right now. That should seem obvious, but it is not historically. And so I do think we have to do a better job of integrating oral and dental health into the broader healthcare conversation.”
Clinton expands these issues outside American soil. “It’s in Canada. It’s in the United Kingdom. It’s in a lot of countries that we think of as having universal health care, but actually don’t include dental or eye care — individually or both.”
I know Clinton is a global health advocate, but health care conversations typically lack details within the dental sphere. It’s shocking to hear her impressive knowledge on dental and optical health care.
Dental care aside, I ask Clinton what advice she has for women at Vanderbilt, as well as women within the Gen Z community. Nodding her head repetitively, the former first daughter confidently answers, “Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is how often we women are told to stay in our lane. For students, mothers, professionals, athletes, or all of the above. Don’t stay in your lane. You deserve to be everywhere.”
See more of Her Campus’ coverage from the 2023 CGI University meeting here.