May 31, 2020
The heartbreaking deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others force each of us to confront the epidemic of intolerance and racism in our society—an epidemic that is disproportionately killing people of color. These senseless acts of violence are in sharp contrast to the values of our medical school—a school committed to equity, racial justice, respect for others, and diversity and inclusion.
The American College of Physicians notes that, “Hate crimes directed against individuals based on their race, ethnic origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity, nationality, primary language, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, cultural background, age, disability, or religion are a public health issue.” Moreover, in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences it is noted that, “Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the life course than are white men. Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women.” As a community dedicated to the promotion of health, prevention of disease, and care of the sick, I hope we can use the language of medicine and public health to work together to help rid society of the terrible and seemingly incurable disease of racism.
In tandem, the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought light to the health care disparities in our communities. African Americans are disproportionately dying from this disease. A recent JAMA viewpoint highlights that, “the underlying cause of health disparities are complex and include social and structural determinants of health, racism and discrimination, economic and educational disadvantages, economic and educational disadvantages, health care access and quality, individual behavior, and biology.” We have a responsibility as educators to educate the next generation of physicians on these disparities so that they are aware of these complex issues. We have remarkable students — and I have no doubt that they will be part of the solution.
Our hearts are heavy, thinking of these lives cut short, these families suffering unfathomable grief. We share in the sadness and collective mourning at this terrible moment in our country’s history. As leaders in health care, we must think of impactful and purposeful ways in which we can combat these racial inequalities. We also ask that you acknowledge the immense and disproportionate psychological effect these repeated traumatic events continue to have on so many of our students, staff and faculty, and encourage you to practice the clinical skills of compassion and radical empathy in the aftermath of these tragedies.
Congressman John Lewis wrote yesterday, “Our work won’t be easy —nothing worth having ever is — but I strongly believe, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'” Our Office of Diversity and Inclusion has put together a list of resources that you might find helpful.
We also recognize that this has been a difficult few months for our community in many aspects. Remember that your self-care and well-being is of the utmost importance. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to EAP or Student Health Services. They have a broad range of services available to help us all cope during difficult times like these.
We are a wonderful community—a tapestry of people with different backgrounds and life experiences—each adding meaning to the collective humanity we share. Please join me in standing in solidarity with those who abhor violence and hate in all its forms, and let’s rededicate our efforts to ensure that as a school we are true examples of equity and inclusion.