Over 500 students, faculty and staff signed a list of demands to Yale School of Medicine Dean Nancy Brown Wednesday in an effort to correct what they call “institutionalized racism [that is] alive and well.”
The demands range from creating a Title VI office for race-based discrimination to instituting a medical curriculum that better reflects people of color. Started by students associated with the Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice, or CDISJ, the demands quickly spread across social media earlier this month. By the time it was sent to Dean Brown at midnight Wednesday, the petition had accrued several hundred signatures.
“The demands are all important and are deeply intertwined,” representatives from the CDISJ told the News in an email. “These demands intend to amplify and build upon the important work that has been done by those who came before us and the ongoing work by others, especially by community organizations and leaders.”
Similar reports were created and put forth in 2012, 2015 and 2018, according to the CDISJ. The committee said that many of the demands included in the current list were also included earlier reports but left addressed by the University administration.
The nine main demands mentioned in the petition include an overhaul of the tenure process, expanded support for underrepresented minority students, the abolition of the YPD and mandatory anti-oppression training for YSM community members.
“They do a really good job I think in some ways of making people feel welcome. There are other ways that they fall short,” said Samer Hassan, MED ‘22 about University administration. “All measures I feel like would enrich the experience for everyone, but also just make it more amenable to people of color and people who are women or anyone who’s felt marginalized in the past couple centuries of this country.”
Hassan, whose family is Egyptian and identifies as a person of color, recalled an experience in an anatomy class taught by an older white faculty member. When Hassan posed a question to him, it was met with a response along the lines of “How dare you ask such a dumb question?” When a white classmate asked a very similar question, Hassan remembered, it was treated with enthusiasm and encouragement.
He also noted having observed instances of “blatant mistreatment” of his female colleagues in academic settings, as well as Black medical students.
“I have friends who are Black and when they suggest something in a small group to a distinguished faculty member, they’ll sometimes be disregarded, as compared to the white male students who said something,” Hassan said.
Matthew Grant, a physician at Yale New Haven Hospital and assistant professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine, expressed having witnessed similar behavior in his workplace, coming from doctors and patients alike.
“I’ve actually witnessed egregious discrimination against trans patients in the hospital,” Grant said.
Grant also said that in meetings, his female colleagues’ questions often go unheard by some senior members of the group. A man may then say the same thing, and it will be heard and well-received.
“One common trope we see is discrediting female healthcare providers in all different levels of roles, like assuming that even attending physician female doctors are their nurse,” Grant said.
The second demand listed in the petition is aimed at reforming racist parts of YSM’s curriculum.
“A large number of ahistorical and non-scientific ideas need to be removed,” the demand stated. “Decades of research have eagerly sought to tie differences in racial outcome to genetics — often in the face of compelling evidence otherwise.”
Hassan said that when he and his classmates are taught about the risk factors of certain conditions, race will often be included in this list.
“That’s not unusual,” Hassan said. “No one usually blinks at that.”
The list of demands also calls for greater representation of minority groups among the faculty and student body.
“From the faculty side it’s a significant problem… In terms of black and Latinx faculty members, the numbers are… they’re there but it’s just that they’re certainly dramatically underrepresented,” Grant said. “As you go up the ladder from assistant to associate to full professor, you see the problem worsen through the ranks.”
The petition also accuses former YSM Dean Robert Alpern of inadequately addressing similar sets of recommendations in 2012 and 2015. In 2018, Alpern stepped down from his post in 2018 following controversy over his alleged misrepresentation of conflicts of interest in a study he published the previous year.
For Brown, who began her tenure at the University in January, this petition serves as a litmus test for the future of her administration, activists say.
“It is now 2020,” the demands state. “After 10 years of endless meetings and committees, considerable effort from students, faculty, and the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community Engagement, and Equity (DICE), little has changed.”
In an email to the News, Brown said that many of the demands listed in this latest petition are “closely aligned” with her goals for the school.
“These goals encompass concentrated work on listening and education that has already begun; work to increase accountability for behavior; work to enhance the recruitment, retention and career development of faculty, students and staff who are underrepresented in medicine or are women; and investments in community-engaged research,” she wrote. “I look forward to ongoing conversations and to realizing our common vision for the future.”
Many students and professors alike who signed the pledge are optimistic about Brown’s ability to respond to their demands.
Grant expressed having been impressed with Brown’s leadership and communication thus far and believes that she will take these demands seriously.
“She makes herself very accessible to students and is willing to listen. That gives me hope,” Hassan said. “Do I think she’s going to be super supportive? Yes. How that will manifest is unclear, but I do have a lot of hope.”
The petition also called on the Office of the Dean to send a written response “expressing intent to fill these demands” to the Yale School of Medicine community by this Wednesday.
“Systemic racism at YSM is not Dean Brown’s fault, but it is now her responsibility,” CDISJ representatives wrote in an email to the News. “We believe she has a historic opportunity to make lasting and long-overdue changes to this institution. However, every faculty member, administrator, staff member, and students will have some role in fulfilling the vision of an inclusive and equitable YSM.”
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