In what seems like an endless stream of invitations to Google Meet, Webex or Zoom in to virtual gatherings, one stood out in the crowd at Salus University last month. Recently, the University's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee hosted a Lunch and Learn event virtually to discuss allyship versus advocacy. The discussion was led by Salus student Camille Menns '21OT.
The dialogue, which Menns commenced with definitions of words like racism, ethnicity and privilege, was sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. What followed was a valuable conversation that proved more than worthwhile to anyone who attended, even examining healthcare's role in combatting racism.
"The idea that I want you to think of is how are we - as healthcare professionals - responsible for dismantling racism? How is it that we - as healthcare professionals - are going to be more conscientious and think of a higher sense to start dismantling racism in our own communities?" Menns said. "It doesn't have to start with the federal government. It doesn't even have to start with a local government. It can start with me and you. That's the first step into taking yourself from an aware person to an ally and into an advocate."
Additionally, related to this effort, the University is actively scouting a DEI role who will work closely with Salus president Michael Mittelman, OD '80, MPH, MBA, FAAO, FACHE, to ensure all voices among the Salus community are represented. Future Lunch and Learn events hosted by the DEI Committee will also be announced. Details will be emailed to the University community.
Below is an excerpt from the video recording of the event that was transcribed, shortened and edited to be posted online. The 30-minute conversation was followed by a Q&A session, giving students, faculty and staff an opportunity to join the dialogue.
The point of today, I hope, is to lead all of us in a direction where we're not just aware anymore, but we're also thinking of ways to educate ourselves, to empower ourselves and marginalized voices who don't always get a seat at the table.
I want to start with some quick definitions. Racism is a conscious or unconscious belief in the superiority of a certain race coupled with the power to determine one's own reality and influence the reality of others. This definition is great for today's discussion, because racism is at the forefront of the consciousness of America right now. Personally, I want to take this definition and really mold and shape it into a meaningful dialogue. Racism is a public health issue. As a University that values health and wellness, if we do not look at it through that lens, it seems like a social construct that doesn't mediate into so many different forms and systems of oppression.
An ally is a person who actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole. It's taking on the struggle as your own, not necessarily knowing the ins and outs of that struggle, but taking it on as your own because you believe that people experiencing struggle shouldn't have to. It's standing up even when you feel scared. It's standing up even when you realize that you are risking everything in order to get this to be accomplished. It's standing up even when you feel nervous or you're anxious about what your position would mean if you took on the struggle of somebody else.
Allyship is transferring the benefits of your privilege to those who lack it. It's acknowledging, and this is the most important piece in my mind, that while you too feel pain, you feel guilt, you feel anxiety, you feel unsure, you feel like you're taking second thoughts about it. The conversation is not about you. It's bigger than you. It's important to acknowledge that.
Native Americans in this country are now being heard because of the Black Lives Matter movement. That's the part that really sinks my soul, because when the tide rises, all of the ships are rising as well. When you lift the lowest, that means you're lifting up other groups too. You're lifting up Native Americans. You're lifting up Latino people. All of these different oppressed groups have black people in their groups. Afro-Latinas have existed since the beginning of time. A lot of indigenous folks are also black. A lot of people from Asia are also black. So, it's not just black lives being only black Americans, or only black people in the African diaspora. We're lifting other groups up, too.
An example of an authentic ally is John Brown. He advocated for armed insurrection to overthrow slavery. He built a Tannery as a safe haven for escaping slaves in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. And when asked to hunt Native Americans by a group of white families, he responded: "I will have nothing to do with so mean an act. I would sooner take my gun and help drive you out of this country."
This is a white man speaking. This is not Malcolm X. This is not any militant black group. This is a white man in the 1800s speaking up and standing firm in his own beliefs and recognizing the humanity of people who he did not look like, who he had nothing in common with. To think that allyship, advocacy and seeing justice for others is easy, I'm here to tell you it's hard. You will get pushback. You will get trolls. You will get harassed online and offline. Your safety will be compromised. It is not an easy thing to do. So, I do not want you to walk away from this thinking that it's going to be a cheery, validated experience, because it's not, especially as a visible person with a platform. It's important to recognize that.
Rahul Dubey came out of his house and opened his home to 70 Washington D.C. protestors. He said he was standing on his stoop because there were 40 cops at the end of the street, and the cops pinned the protestors in. He just opened his door and he didn't think anything that he was doing was special. "If it is, then we have a ton of work to do in this country," he said. He's recognizing, and he's also a healthcare executive, that it's important to provide safety for those who are threatened. He says it's so simple an act, but I think it's huge.
Now police know where he lives. Now everybody in the country knows that he opened his doors to the protestors. I'm sure that multiple people have praised him, but there have also been people who have been bullying him, who have been harassing him for doing the right thing. So, like I said, it's authentic allyship. It's taking a risk. It's standing up even when you get pushback.
Finally, my last example is Dr. James Mahoney, a Brooklyn doctor who served people with low socioeconomic status for over 40 years. As his retirement approached, COVID-19 cases were surging. He postponed his retirement. He provided care to patients without having personal protective equipment (PPE), going into rooms knowing that he was not protected from coronavirus. He put his life on the line, and he left behind a beautiful family in April when he passed away from COVID-19.
Take a social inventory. Know your implicit bias. Create a diverse group of friends. I have multiple thoughts on this. You, more likely than not, already know your own implicit bias. So, make sure that you're actively unlearning. That means, you're reading books about how to address implicit bias and you're taking a social inventory.
Members of the Salus community can look for details that will be emailed about future events hosted by the University's DEI Committee like the Lunch and Learn series.