On Friday, June 19, the Geisel School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE) and Dean’s Office hosted the Juneteenth Town Hall of Racism and Structural Violence to bring the Geisel community together to learn, reflect, and honor the lives lost to anti-Black racism.
Additional Resources from Dr. Gomez:
Shawn O’Leary, director of DICE, and Dean Duane Compton kicked off the event, which was held virtually via Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Prior to introducing the keynote speaker, medical student Chad Lewis ’21 provided a timeline of the history and significance of Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, or Black Independence Day). Juneteenth is a holiday of jubilation when Black communities remember their fight for freedom and celebrate their culture and connection through shared history. Lewis asked everyone, “to take the next few days to educate yourselves … and help us celebrate this newfound freedom.”
Of keynote speaker Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, Lewis said, “It is an honor—her allegories and articles on race and racism were canonical in the public health curriculum. She is a role model, a mentor … a family physician, and epidemiologist … her work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the effects of racism on the health of the nation … topics that many Americans find difficult to understand and discuss.”
Jones, an Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, launched a national campaign and developed tools to “inspire, equip, and engage all Americans against racism.” The campaign focuses on three tools: naming racism, identifying the mechanisms of how racism operates within our culture, and strategies for action.
After commenting on the importance of the town hall and the conversations that Americans are how engaging in regarding racism, she launched a spirited and engaging talk about what each of us can do to name racism and talk about the effect of white privilege—if we don’t acknowledge that racism exists, we are implicit in its denial.
“In our race conscious society, race is a social classification not a biological description. And racism is a system where opportunity and value are based on the social interpretation of how we look—which both disadvantages people and communities and advantages others. Distinctions that can affect health equity,” she said and encouraged everyone to be interested in and listen to the stories of others.
Trenika Williams ’21, introduced guest speaker, Judelysse Gomez, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Connecticut College. With expertise in racial trauma, her work centers on the understanding that individuals’ experiences are influenced by the contexts in which they are embedded. Passionate about social justice, empowerment, and liberation she is committed to working within communities to reduce mental health disparities.
Gomez discussed the socio-cultural variables that drive mental health disparities and inform treatment development in her talk: Truth-Telling & Bearing Witness When the World Is on FIRE: How Can Ethical Institutional Action Lead to Collective Healing?
“After sitting with everything that is going on, I feel that this continued struggle for liberation is exciting,” Gomez noted in her opening remarks. She went on to talk about the state of systemic racism and the importance of recognizing the White Supremacist, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric that informs violence and hate-crimes.
She also discussed the effect of racism and health outcomes. “Going back to Dr. Jones’ talk, we can see how systems of racism, homophobia, and sexism impact all aspects of our lives—from economics to education, housing, food access, transportation, and public safety.”
Both Jones and Gomez acknowledged there are no quick fixes to problems of inequity and injustice—lasting solutions require all of us to be actively anti-racist.
Diana Wu, MD, interim associate dean of diversity and inclusion, thanked Jones and Gomez for educating all of us on the effects of racial trauma on our communities and for guiding us on strategies for action. “It is not enough to be passively colorblind,” Wu said and encouraged everyone to proactively develop safe spaces for people of color and other marginalized communities in their workplace, teaching environment, and social community.
"… let us not waste this momentum by allowing ourselves to return to the status quo. Let us not render these gruesome deaths to spectacle and let us not continue to exploit the pain of people of color. The time for change is now," she said.
The town hall ended with an eight-minute, forty-six seconds tribute, led by Geisel students, of the Black Americans who lost their lives to police violence in the past decade.