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Blatant Racism At One Of America’s Oldest Institutions? Yes, You Heard Right

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By YKA Staff:

Editor’s Note: ‘Why Don’t My Professor’s Look Like Me?’ 

Why aren’t America’s campuses racially inclusive? From Missouri to Yale to John Hopkins, students are protesting against the racism on campus through protest marches, questioning Deans, and bringing out memorandums.

However, racial tensions have been elevated at Yale University this year due to a number of concerns, some of them being the paucity of black faculty members and recent attention of the school’s historic ties to slavery. The problem came to national light when some women of colour weren’t allowed to enter a party because it was a ‘white girls only’ party. Last year too, after African-American youth Michael Brown’s brutal death, Yale Medical School students protested against discrimination of black people in medical treatment and its access.

yale protests
Image source: Black Student Alliance at Yale/Facebook

Yale School of Medicine students have now brought out a memorandum outlining their demands for inclusion and diversity at their school, and have also written an open letter to the administration, urging them to make the curriculum more sensitive to medical exploitation of people of colour, under-representation of people of colour in lectures, etc.

Dear Dean Alpern and Members of the Yale School of Medicine Administration,

Incited by long histories of injustice exemplified by recent events at Yale, we, students of colour and partners in solidarity, write to demand sustainable reforms that will foster an environment at the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) in which all identities are valued.

Our concerns arise from manifestations of oppression in our intellectual, social, and physical environment. Our formal curriculum treats the medical exploitation of communities of color as historical rather than ongoing, reinforces harmful stereotypes in cases and with standardized patients, underrepresents black and brown bodies in our lectures and medical texts, and remains silent on systemic issues that create health disparities and the way medicine is complicit in propagating them. Our hidden curriculum forces us to bear micro-aggressions perpetrated by peers and instructors, experience underrepresentation of people of color and women in the faculty and student body, and accept deficient support for students from marginalized backgrounds. Our very physical environment, with buildings baptized after and populated with portraits of white males, is a constant reminder of our historic exclusion as people of colour and women.

Image source: Black Students Alliance at Yale/Facebook
Image source: Black Students Alliance at Yale/Facebook

The mission of YSM aspires “to produce physicians who will be among the leaders in their chosen field,” “to alleviate suffering caused by illness and disease,” and “to provide outstanding care and service for patients in a compassionate and respectful manner.” Much of the illness and disease that afflicts our community, both domestically and globally, directly links to historic injustice, racism, and gender- and sexuality-based oppression. Many of our sister institutions have already acknowledged this reality and are making strides to counteract its harms. In order to fulfill our mission, YSM must create institutional reform such that students are prepared to address the diverse challenges confronting both the field of medicine and our global community.

We uphold the right of all members of the YSM community to thrive in their living and learning environment. To create this atmosphere of inclusion, we assert the six demands linked below.

We request a response from Dean Alpern by Friday, November 20th, in the form of a school-wide email stating the intention of the administration to fulfill these demands. With this response, we expect the formation of a joint ad hoc faculty-student committee to begin implementation. We expect this committee will provide transparent, quarterly updates to the YSM community.

These demands are intended to initiate a conversation on actionable reform to end oppression and promote inclusion at YSM. We ask you to please appreciate the intention with which these demands were written. Together, we hope to build a more supportive and unified YSM community.

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  1. Srinivas

    “Why Don’t My Professor’s Look Like Me?’ ?!!
    Because you fucking traveled thousands of miles, to a foreign land, to learn from them. Don’t try to make them
    look like you, you might have as well stayed home and attended Sharada Vilas Ramamanohar Lohia Rajiv Gandhi School
    of Fine Arts and Engineering!

  2. Monistaf

    What is the outcome these protestors want? That the student body and faculty reflect the population diversity and demographic that exist in the United States? That is what makes them feel included? Are they blind to the fact that they already have equal, and in some cases more, opportunity to compete and get into these Universities, thanks to gender and diversity quotas!! The fact of the matter is that over the last century, the vast majority of contributions to modern medicine have been made by white males, so the halls are named after them as a recognition and acknowledgement for those contributions. No one is preventing anyone from writing medical text books either. African americans have made significant contributions to basketball and a lot of teams are overwhelmingly black. I contend that Asian Americans are not fairly represented in basketball even though, they too have equal opportunity to play. How come no one is seeking or fighting for racial diversity when it comes to sports, probably because we only want the best. Why should it be any different at any University? It is unrealistic and infantile to expect that a university environment, business, organization, sport, industry or politics to be a perfect representation of the population demographics. We just need to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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