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'Die-In' at UNM Health Campus Calls Attention To History Of White Supremacy In Medicine


Hundreds of masked protesters in white coats, green scrubs, and street clothes gathered six feet apart for a "die-in" yesterday outside the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Library to highlight anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism embedded in the health care system. Protesters honored the memory of George Floyd, denounced police brutality and white supremacy in medicine, and demanded change in their institution.

Organizers with White Coats for Black and Indigenous Lives read a list of demands for their administration, including a commitment to learning the history of white supremacy in medicine and the implementation of an anti-racist curricula for all health care students.

Then protesters -- including doctors, nurses, techs, medical students, and the general public -- laid on the ground in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds: the length of time a police officer kneeled on George Floyd on memorial day, killing him. Many protesters had signs, some prayed, and some cried as they laid and kneeled silently on the grass.

Dr. Laura Gonzalez Bosc said an anti-racism protest among the UNM health care community is long overdue.

“I have never seen a protest happening in the North Campus," said Bosc, who has worked at UNMH for 19 years. "There has always been an expression of ideas on the Main Campus. It’s time that people express what they think, that they get together and they make real changes.”

Protest organizer Dr. Farinaz Khan said more hospital administrators are speaking up against racism in the system but there is still much work to be done, and that disproportionate rates of COVID in Black and Indigenous communities in New Mexico and around the U.S. highlight health care disparities. 

“What we are seeing now are more and more people in those positions of power speaking up, whether that’s department chairs or healthcare leadership." said Khan. "Different medical organizations have come out with statements acknowledging that racism is an essential public health crisis in our country."

The demands organizers presented were read by medical professionals and students as follows:

1. "We hope for today to be the beginning of a process that results in more equitable practices within our institution that respect the unique challenges of black, indigenous and people of color within healthcare and acknowledge police brutality and the public health impacts of systemic racism. To begin, we demand that we set up a time to meet in the next 72 hours so we can further the discussion and action. We will ask you for a time and place when we conclude."

2. "We commit to learn from our history and to name the legacy of white supremacy and systemic racism entrenched in the medical institution. Physicians and scientists were involved in creating and perpetuating racial inferiority theories and stereotypes which have been taught in U.S. medical schools since the 18th century. These ideologies continue to be upheld in our medical training today. This history has led directly to medical and scientific abuse, unethical experimentation and the overutilization of African Americans as subjects for teaching and training. In New Mexico, we must particularly acknowledge the waves of colonization and genocidal land theft that our institution is built upon. Health inequities are deeply rooted in these structures. The institution and leadership must actively name the legacy of systemic racism, the history of colonialism in NM, its impacts on current health disparities and commit to actionable steps to undo these disparities. We direct these asks in particular to our leadership standing here with us today."

3. "We believe that both education and action are needed in order to make a change and address inequities and systemic racism within our institution. We ask you to prioritize a fully funded infrastructure for:

  • Anti-racism curricula for all academic programs
  • Health equity proficiencies to prepare the workforce to dismantle systemic racism within the institution
  • Practices that promote racial equity and diversity within all operating structures, including academic, research, and clinical programs
  • Policies that foster institutional transformation and create an environment where everyone feels that they belong 

4. "New Mexico is a minority-serving institution, and we are a minority-majority state. Annual hiring should address the critical shortage of under-represented medical professionals with an emphasis on Native and African Americans. Right now we have: 1% African American, 1% Native Americans, and 13% Latinx School of Medicine faculty. We don’t have enough mentors that look like us and share our experiences. We demand a commitment to an infrastructure of equitable hiring practices. "
5. "We know that money is power--where our institutions invest their money matters.  For the upcoming meeting we’ll request that information on UNMH investments, specifically whether UNMH supports or is invested in the Albuquerque Police Department, state or private prison systems, ICE, or detention facilities be made available.  We demand that all support of these organizations and institutions be immediately withdrawn and redirected to local and state organizations who specifically state their support for racial justice."

6. "Data collection must be prioritized to stop making deaths and disparities invisible. Support the collection of census data and quantitative metrics to make transparent the disparities in COVID related deaths facing Black and Indigenous peoples. To quote Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, 'A foundational step is releasing comprehensive racial data on COVID-19. Throughout history, there has been immense resistance to collecting racial data on pressing public issues, especially in the health care sector. Some claim it’s too difficult to collect racial data. Others believe it’s not important to record that information during a medical appointment. Buried behind all of this is an underlying fear: releasing the information would mean bringing attention to a problem that policy makers could otherwise easily ignore.' We demand that the institution prioritize thoughtful data collection informed by critical race theory and cultural insight to stop making deaths and disparities invisible.  Voice and insight are vital. Data cannot ‘speak for itself ’ and critical analyses should be informed to address  by the experiential knowledge of marginalized groups."

Yasmin Khan covers worker's rights in New Mexico, with a focus on Spanish-speaking residents. She is finishing her Ph.D. in human geography and women & gender studies at the University of Toronto where she studies refugee and humanitarian aid dynamics in Bangladesh. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from UNM. Yasmin was director of The Americas Program, an online U.S. foreign policy magazine based in Mexico City, and was a freelance journalist in Bolivia. She covered culture, immigration, and higher education for the Santa Fe New Mexican and city news for the Albuquerque Journal.
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