Grieving, angry, fearful medical students came together with Miller School leadership for a virtual town hall meeting to discuss and denounce the police violence and racism that led to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and disrupted the nationwide protests that followed – and to join in a commitment to continue fighting racism and injustice wherever they exist.
“We cannot remain silent,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School of Medicine. “Today more than ever before we need to emphasize the importance of denouncing racism in any form. We cannot hide.”
More than 250 students, residents and faculty joined the June 4 “United Against Racism” town hall sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement and Student Services, many describing the trauma and pain they have experienced since George Floyd’s death.
“This has probably been the hardest two weeks of my life,” said Kimberly Reynolds, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics. “I was 10 years old when my city was burned, after Rodney King was beaten by police in Los Angeles. As of last week, my son is 10. Trying to navigate my own trauma and pain, and then trying to figure out what to tell my 10-year-old son, and then trying to be there for those who look up to me – it’s just been a very heavy time.
“We are here for you students. We’re here to listen, we want you to have a voice. I understand your pain because I feel that pain.”
Dean Ford offered his own open door to the students, and a commitment to provide the support they need. “We have chosen medicine because we want to improve the health of humanity,” he said. “We want to make a difference. What I can tell you is that if we are going to make a difference, we cannot ignore what we have seen. We have to engage and come up with concrete plans to intervene and bring about the change that’s necessary.”
Several Black students described their anger and the challenge this crisis presents at an important point in their medical education. They talked about the trauma their parents and grandparents have experienced through the decades, and the bitterness of realizing that trauma persists.
Hilit Mechaber, M.D., associate dean for student services, urged the students to reach out to the counseling services that are available for them. The Office of Diversity provided a guide to many other services as well.
“Don’t be afraid to let us know if there’s a way we can help,” said Jeffrey Brosco, M.D., Ph.D., director of population health ethics, who is working to increase faculty development in areas including racism.
Roderick King, M.D., M.P.H., senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion, reminded the gathering of a quote from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that President Obama repeated just this week: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“It’s young people who bend the arc,” Dr. Roderick King said. “It’s you guys. This is a window of opportunity, so I’m heartened to see the 250-plus people who are willing to stand up and help bend this arc toward justice.
“We have to act. Whatever you decide to do to help bend this moral arc, we stand with you. This is not the end of the conversation – change happens through a series of dialogues.”
Nanette Vega, Ed.D., executive director of diversity and inclusion, echoed the need for many more gatherings. “We know that one hour on one day is not enough,” she said. “Our work is ongoing, we are committed, and we stand with you.”
Dean Ford called for an accelerated commitment by all students and faculty. “I challenge this gathering to denounce racism wherever we see it, in whatever setting, because it’s fundamentally bad. It’s not going to go away if we ignore it, if we don’t speak up.
“We want to create the optimal learning environment for everyone,” he said. “We have zero tolerance for every form of prejudice. We need to be partners in this process, and I know that ultimately we will prevail.”