Greetings Gentle Reader,
In so very many ways my blog has helped me deal with the challenges of life, med school and things I just can’t understand. Sometimes what I write is fluffy and dumb—of no real consequence. Sometimes I may overdo it with a metaphor or two—but it makes me feel better nonetheless. But the posts that have meant the most to me—and incidentally the ones that have been most widely read are those that say something important.
Its scary to say the things that matter—especially on the internet. I don’t like conflict. I want to say things that everyone agrees with. The problem with that is I end up saying nothing at all. I also think its important not to write about things one knows nothing about, so this week I am grateful to my dear friend for his words and his honesty, (because he has a real adult job on main campus he has asked me not to use his name here.)
I think his post is particularly well timed following a certain set of doctoring lectures that were the topic of much conversation. Speaking up is hard. Listening, harder still.
And with that I give you this week’s post,
Reform and Unrest
Speaking up is hard. I work at UC Davis (the big campus not the medical center) and the work I do centers around supporting and advocating for educational equity, and working to create spaces for marginalized communities to have their voices heard and to have a say in how we do education. It’s hard for me to speak up sometimes. I’m younger, and a product of the very institution I am now critiquing and challenging. I hope be the Chancellor one day. I’ll change everything. But this post isn’t really about me. I want to talk about the undergrad students I work with and how awesome and brave they are. I hope that this sparks a thought or two around the intersections between how we “do” health care in the United States, and what reform really means. In my opinion (and isn’t that what blogs are all about) how we educate and care for those in the margins of our society reflects our true nature as a society. And what we do needs some changing, because we aren’t doing too great right now. Let me also say I recognize that I am coming into this not sharing a ton about myself, my background, or how I have come to think about things the way I do. That’s just how this is going to be! I am a guy with some thoughts who is focusing right now on what other folks should be doing. I recognize that, and the privilege anonymity carries.
Between November 2014 and June 2015 our campus was buzzing with the kinetic energy of student activism and unrest. A lot of controversial things happened over that span of time both nationally and in our own community. The murder of black and brown men at the hands of police… the fight for marriage equality… cultural appropriation… pro-life preachers… the list goes on and on. Many students were rightfully upset about these things, and as folks with the privilege of education and access to resources that the majority of the United States does not have, they recognized their obligation to take action.
I am so incredibly proud of students who have taken a stand when they have encountered injustice on our campus and in our society. Whether I agree or disagree with a group’s stance or viewpoint, the bravery it takes to make your voice heard is empowering. In my two years at UC Davis, we’ve dealt with “themed parties”, where students have dressed up in clothing that mocks communities that are already oppressed and marginalized in the United States. There have been protests between pro-life groups and pro-choice groups on campus that have cut to the core of people’s faith and beliefs. Students have marched in the streets to protest tuition hikes and LGBTQIA rights, and have advocated for the needs of Native American and Chicano students in higher education. Our universities are a microcosm of our society, and if these brave activities are any indication of where our society is headed, I have faith that our students have the courage to fight to make sure all voices are heard and valued.
OK future doctors, in a couple years, you’re going to be some pretty influential people (who are we kidding, you’re pretty important now). You will hold the actual lives of real people in your hands, and the decisions you make will shape peoples futures. You have an obligation to do right by these people. Your patients will be rich and they will be poor. Some will not speak English. Some will look down on you and some will see you as their only hope. Each patient has lived a full, substantive, real life, and has somehow ended up in front of you. They are not statistics, trends, problems, or nuisances. They are you ad you’re really busy, I get it.
So I imagine sometimes it’s hard to focus on that stuff. You’re taking lots of classes, and learning words and concepts that I’ll never understand. And you’re probably not eating well, working out much, or sleeping either. But you are going to be a doctor someday! Think about that. You have an opportunity to really change things. And it begins now. While you’re filling your brain full of facts and numbers, use this time to also develop opinions about things related to how we do medicine. How we care for our poor and our voiceless. How you choose to care, every single day. This can be your activism. You do not need to “die in” to make a point. You don’t need to send tweets or donate $10 to Red Cross on Facebook (or write blog posts). You do not need to march, or occupy buildings either. While these are very important acts of civil disobedience, they are for the powerless (you can not rebuild a country with the tools of the master.) But I firmly believe that true activism for those with access and privilege (read, future doctors) begins with how you choose to live your life, and do what you do. And then, you need to challenge others.
I imagine sitting in a classroom with an old man doctor telling you things he believes to be fact can be intimidating and scary and controversial, but if you believe he is wrong, say something. You will inspire others, and you will be doing more than any thing you’re going to accomplish with a student organization. You will be interrupting the narrative. Even if you say something that others disagree with (and invariably you will, remember, no one is neutral), discourse is valid, necessary, and important. That’s how you grow. I am a firm believer in listening to others to understand before refuting. But refute you must. The longer you stay silent, the more the system wins. Silence = oppression. You have an opportunity to make change. And then, you need to give back. Make yourself good, help make your peers and educators better, and then enrich and invest in your community, and your field. Make medicine welcoming to women. Inspire poor kids to become doctors. You’re one person, but if everyone who reads this invests their time in inspiring some people to go into medicine as a profession who have never thought of it as a space where they belong, well, then we’ve got something. And do this regardless of your background.
I sometimes wonder if I would care so much if I weren’t a brown man growing up in the US. But what I have come to realize is that true social justice is working for equity for all people, with the understanding that a socially just society is what’s best for everyone. I need to stand up for women, for the LGBTQIA community, for adopted folks those who are differently-abled… anyone who has been pushed to the side and told they are not enough, not worthy of dignity. I need to actively care, love, and support these people, every day. That’s something I am 100% in control of, and that I believe is right. I can be an activist every day.
And this also means loving and supporting those who want to be allies, but are still figuring out how to do that (Hint: if you’re not part of the group being oppressed, the most powerful thing you can do –in my opinion- is listen to the narratives of those who are silenced. And if you’re part of the group that’s in power in our society, talk to others like yourself. They’ll hear you in a way that they may never hear those whose voices have been marginalized.)
I saw a photo on social media of a white person holding up a sign that said “#alllivesmatter.” Their caption said something along the lines of “Oh you know out here just doing my part to FIGHT FOR JUSTICE.” Now, this bothered me for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here. But underneath that photo was a comment from a person I’ll never meet that summed up everything I wanted to say to the person in the photo. It has stuck with me as I continue to think about how I can support all students during such troubling times. “Yes, they all do. But right now we’re focused on the black and brown ones, because they’re under attack. Thank you for being present.”
The free expression of thoughts and ideas are at the heart of education, and no single person can be the arbiter of what’s right and what’s wrong. Universities (and yes, medical schools too) are responsible for providing a space for students to explore and challenge what they are learning in the classroom, while also engaging in critical debates about the important and controversial issues happening every day around us. Through these experiences, we will create more dynamic and socially conscious thinkers. Thinkers who will plant seeds for reform, deconstruct hierarchies, and rebuild us into a society that will care and nurture those lives that are at risk. Thinkers that I hope you all aspire to become.