Trauma – depending on your context, this word may evoke different connotations or have different implications. We want to recognize that the dual pandemic (systemic racism and COVID-19) coupled with escalating violence and national rhetoric laced with racism are tantamount to trauma for many in our community. While the challenges of the last year are apparent to everyone, those who have historically been targeted because of their identities are likely experiencing significant psychological and emotional stress due to the compounding impacts of a national racial reckoning and their own experience of racialized aggressions. In our high stress environment, where we often push down our feelings in order to manage the immediate needs of those we have promised to serve, it is equally important to take the time to recognize these events and the impact they are having on us and on those around us.
First, we would like to acknowledge that the Derek Chauvin (the police officer indicted in George Floyd’s murder) trial is currently happening. We worry deeply about the implications of another sensationalized trial on our students, patients and colleagues. While complete avoidance of this trial is almost impossible, we recommend that we all be cognizant of its impact on our personal well-being and actively manage our engagement with it as needed. We also ask that we all keep a compassionate mind and heart as you interact with those who might be more directly impacted by the daily proceedings and outcomes of this trial. The trial is expected to last four weeks with a high news profile throughout and the impacts will last far longer, regardless of the outcome.
This occurs at the same time as we are experiencing an escalating pattern of anti-Asian racism. Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by 149 percent in 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism’s survey of police departments in 16 major U.S. cities. Throughout the pandemic we have also seen an increase in violence against women worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how inextricably connected our local and global community is at every level. It has also clearly elucidated the ways that some in our communities are more susceptible to structural violence and inequity. This is illustrated through the disproportionate burden of both disease and strife borne by people of color, women and gender minorities, those in poverty and particularly those who exist in the intersections of these communities.
As a School, we have taken the following steps to address racism and bias in our own community: (1) in August 2020, WUSM leadership participated in a 10-hour retreat that focused on understanding and dismantling systemic racism; (2) the Gateway Curriculum Build Teams and Curriculum Coaches who led the design and implementation of the Gateway Curriculum are participating in on-going professional development and skill building throughout the year specifically on understanding systemic racism and anti-racism work; (3) the WUSM Understanding Systemic Racism team has developed an anti-racism curriculum and professional development program that is being piloted in various departments/divisions in WUSM; (4) we have established a working committee of students, faculty and staff who are working to actively address issues of relevance to an anti-racism institution from space to policies and everything in between; (5) the Gateway Curriculum explicitly integrates an anti-racism lens and teaches about the impact of racism on health; the Legacy Curriculum students are being offered supplemental curriculum in this area; (6) the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offers on-going opportunities for learning and professional development; additional information is available on the website (https://diversity.med.wustl.edu) and are collaborating with the Office of Education to build required training on microaggressions, upstander behaviors, mistreatment and bias in assessment and letter writing. There are a number of other initiatives occurring within the departments. We are actively trying to build a culture of trying because change is hard and conflicts will arise. We also commit to continuous learning and remaining open to the changes that are needed. We offer this, not to suggest that we’ve figured it all out for our institution, but rather to be transparent and to offer a framework for which we can be held accountable.
We are a community and it is critically important for us to support each other in these trying times. We are so grateful to you and your commitment to these efforts. Our hearts go out to all who are suffering.