This month marks the seventh anniversary of the White Coats for Black Lives Die-In, the landmark protest in which UCSF students drew attention to health care disparities, structural racism, and police violence.
The 2014 die-in reverberated around the nation and had a huge impact here at home. Its importance grew in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths of George Floyd and other Black people bore out the students’ message – that anti-Black racism in America constitutes a public health crisis and is destroying people’s lives. These profound disparities that continue to exist within our own community affect all of us, and my heart goes out to everyone suffering from the direct impact of the myriad tragedies and injustices.
The students demanded action that December day and UCSF responded, both immediately and in a continuing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Chancellor Sam Hawgood and Vice Chancellor Diversity and Outreach Renee Navarro unveiled a major Anti-Racism Initiative in 2020. For an update, please tune into the UCSF Anti-Racism Town Hall V on December 2 at 12 p.m.
In this installment of Expresso, I’ve got three topics that all touch on this crucial ongoing work:
- Welcome to UCSF, Nicquet Blake: New Vice Provost of Student Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate Division
- Naming Racism and Moving to Action: UCSF Presidential Chair Camara Phyllis Jones
- A New Safety Plan in the Works: UCSF’s role in a UC systemwide initiative to re-envision campus safety and policing
Also, after several months of outreach, data analysis, and deliberation, the Parnassus Research Programming Task Force delivered final recommendations to the UCSF Space Committee. This included a detailed report articulating ideas and plans to create a vibrant, connected research enterprise at the Parnassus campus. In addition to endorsing the recommendations, the committee unanimously supported the development of an action plan for their implementation, including high-level timelines and funding proposals to support the action plan. It will take our collective efforts and commitment to fulfill this ambitious and exciting vision and its potential to advance the overall mission of UCSF. We encourage you to learn more by visiting [email protected], where the full report, committee response, and links to a Town Hall and a November 18 presentation to the Academic Senate are posted.
Here we are at the end of another challenging year, and challenges will continue. If you need support, please avail yourself of UCSF resources. Until 2022, I send you all my best wishes for a bright holiday season of gratitude, peace, and joy.
If you have any suggestions for topics for next year, let me know at [email protected].
Welcome to UCSF, Nicquet Blake: New Vice Provost of Student Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate Division
Nicquet Blake is ready to meet the people, learn the UCSF culture, and review the data.
“My immediate role is to support, listen, and to learn,” says Nicquet, who starts work on December 7 as UCSF’s new vice provost of Student Academic Affairs and dean of the Graduate Division.
“When one comes into a new organization, you want to work with your team, discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities with stakeholders, and then examine the data. After all, it’s the data that should drive the decisions you make,” she explains. “We will be diligent in the reviewing and contextualization of the data before we make any changes to a system that clearly functions at an exceptional level.”
She also wants to meet all of us and hear what we think is working and where improvements can be made.
“I’m joining a world-class institution that has demonstrated a strong commitment to students and postdocs,” she adds. “I’m not coming with any sense of urgency to change things. I genuinely have to listen for ways that we can evolve to be even more spectacular than we are right now.”
Coming to UCSF from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Nicquet cemented her reputation there as one of the nation’s leading advocates for underrepresented groups.
“One of the things that made my candidacy attractive is the work that we had done in terms of diversifying the academy,” Nicquet notes. “The questions to ask here at UCSF include ‘Are there process improvements that can and should be made? And if there are, how do we accomplish that in this specific community?’ The only way to answer these questions is to spend time listening and trying to understand the diversity of perspectives of all the stakeholders within the community.”
In addition to her work on behalf of professional and graduate students, Nicquet is also excited to explore ways of improving the postdoc experience at UCSF, both for the sake of current postdocs and to encourage graduate students to keep an open mind about whether to take a postdoctoral appointment here when they graduate.
In Student Academic Affairs, mental health issues are a priority to Nicquet. Mental health concerns have become particularly acute due to the pandemic. Trainees understand more than ever the value of mental health resources as they grapple with complex life issues, social isolation, and a demanding training environment. “We are social beings,” Nicquet says, and spending over a year on Zoom had an impact. “There are some trainees who are just not coping well in the virtual world. We have to identify both strategies and resources to help them. While meeting again in person is part of a solution, the transition to in-person interactions will bring its own set of unanticipated experiences.”
Nicquet credits athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for speaking out and helping to remove the stigma of mental health concerns. Like those world-renowned Olympic athletes, Nicquet says, “We have the top trainees in the country, and they are saying, ‘We are struggling with these issues.’ We have a responsibility to listen, hear that, and act accordingly.”
Nicquet says we can soar to new heights by cultivating a community that is both DEI- and student-centric. She offers a Star Trek analogy: “We’re going to take the Enterprise, which is already a well-developed, well-oiled machine, and we’re going to vault into Deep Space Nine to discover new ways to be even more successful.”
As Benjamin Sisko (the commander of Deep Space Nine) said, “We are explorers… we explore the galaxy trying to expand the boundaries of our knowledge. And that is why I am here: not to conquer you with weapons or ideas, but to coexist and learn.” His words are far from fiction – welcome Nicquet!
Naming Racism and Moving to Action: UCSF Presidential Chair Camara Phyllis Jones
A particularly marvelous program at UCSF is the “presidential chair,” in which the University invites a distinguished professor to our campus to enrich our academic life. This year, we welcomed Camara Phyllis Jones, an adjunct professor at both Emory University and Morehouse School of Medicine, who in the past two years has also had fellowships at Harvard and Yale.
Camara is a family physician and epidemiologist whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. In her year at UCSF, which started this summer, she is working with our colleagues to create an anti-racism roadmap guided by three principles for achieving social equity: valuing all individuals and populations equally, recognizing and rectifying historical injustices, and providing resources according to need. (Read more about this approach in a 2020 op-ed that she wrote for Newsweek.) She’ll continue working over Zoom for most of her time and will join us on campus for about a month next spring.
Camara, who often distills complex topics into allegories, views the various groups at UCSF already working on anti-racism initiatives as creating individual pieces of a tapestry like beautiful and intricate pieces of a quilt. To some extent, she sees her work as trying to figure out how to make the most pleasing and the most useful arrangement of these pieces, and helping us use a unified stitching to attach them to an encompassing background.
With creativity, skill, and commitment, the outcome can be something that protects from the cold and provides a safe space – like a favorite winter blanket. Camara has seen it. When she was president of the American Public Health Association in 2016, she used her platform to launch a National Campaign Against Racism with three tasks: name racism, ask how is racism operating here, and organize and strategize to act.
Inspired by her work, Lilliann Paine from the Wisconsin Public Health Association wrote a declaration in 2018 that “racism is a public health crisis,” which was formally adopted by Milwaukee County in 2019. Since then, at least 217 jurisdictions across 40 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have followed suit, including this year’s momentous declaration by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky that racism is a national public health threat.
“It is important for all of us to recognize that when we have a platform, we should use it.” Camara adds, “We should not be afraid. We should not self-censor.” Although there is immediate and urgent work, we also need to focus further down the road. Results may not be immediately apparent, but our efforts must never end.
This anti-racism and anti-oppression work – the social justice work – must begin with us. “We need to be acting now,” Camara says. “It’s not a three-to-five-year endeavor. We have to vigorously invest in opportunity structures, but the impact of that investment in opportunities may not be fully apparent in outcomes until the next generation, in 20 or 25 years. We need to plant acorns now so that our grandchildren can have shade.”
Camara has so many powerful ideas, and I don’t have space to include them all. I’ll close by noting her definition of racism and its impacts, and why it’s imperative that we address it.
“Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which we call ‘race’), that 1) unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, 2) unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and 3) saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”
“That third impact of racism is the most important point that we need to elevate in these days,” Camara adds. “We need more people filled with a sense of urgency to dismantle racism. Especially if they’re white, their anti-racism work should not be just because they care about other people. They have to go through the process of recognizing their unfair advantage to understand that racism truly is sapping the strength of the whole society. Of course, they also have to care about the whole society.”
Camara shares her advice for all who would be social justice warriors as her “Four BCs”:
- Be courageous: Speak your truth; be unafraid of controversy; embrace challenge; know that the edge of your comfort is your growing edge.
- Be curious: Ask serial “Whys?” (“Why?” and “Why?” and “Why?” again); read widely; read history.
- Be collective: Care about the whole; share your time, energy, and possessions; link with others because collective action is power.
- Build community: Be interested in, believe, and join in the stories of others; go across town and stay a while.
Like many quilts, these are the central blocks to building something beautiful. If you have an opportunity to engage with our insightful presidential chair, please take it!
A New Safety Plan in the Works: UCSF’s role in a UC systemwide initiative to re-envision campus safety and policing
The November 10, 2021, headline in a local Palo Alto news outlet, “Sergeant’s retirement leaves Palo Alto with no Black police officers… Police cite industry-wide recruitment challenges, shortage of applicants,” immediately reminded me of the account, “Who Replaces Me?,” featured in the August 31, 2020, episode of the New York Times “The Daily” podcast. That narrative sensitively illustrates the dynamic challenges that anti-Black racism poses to our society and a personal dilemma at the intersection of the individual and the community. There’s a lot to unpack from this powerful account of the lived journey of Scott Watson, a soon-to-be-retired Black police officer in Flint, Michigan. Rejecting the notion that crime was his only future, he made the life-changing decision to choose a path of criminal justice – only to have that choice rocked by the police killing of George Floyd, as well as the subsequent protests and his colleagues’ reactions.
The Palo Alto headline also brought to mind the Obama Foundation’s conversation with President Obama: Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence, which I included in the June 2020 issue of Expresso. In it, he urged mayors to review use of force policies with members of the community and commit to reporting on planned reforms. As president, Obama created a Task Force on 21st Century Policing charged with developing a set of research-based recommendations to strengthen public trust and foster better relationships between law enforcement and their communities.
As I’ve written about before, UCSF has been working with its police and security forces to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome in all of our buildings – on campus and in our hospitals and clinics. This includes the work of the Safety Task Force, which Renee Navarro and I co-chaired last January.
Recently, the UC Office of the President launched two efforts to evaluate how police and security personnel conduct themselves and to determine if any changes can be made across all UC campuses.
The UC Community Safety Plan is building on work done at UCSF and the other UC campuses. “We must put the UC community at the heart of our safety practices,” UC President Michael Drake says in a video on the safety plan website, noting that as we grapple with issues of racism, policing, and systemic injustice, “many of us are thinking about how we can create more safe and inclusive communities. People must be safe and feel safe.”
The UC Office of the President has appointed several workgroups, which include students, faculty, and staff, that are in the very early stages of discussion and discovery to tackle different aspects of this issue. Recommendations will be made to President Drake. I’m glad to report that UCSF is represented on two of them. Leah McCann, an operations manager in the Hematology and Oncology Division of the Department of Medicine and a Council of UC Staff Assemblies (“CUCSA”) delegate, serves on a workgroup that will recommend standards for the uniforms and vehicles that police officers and security officers use on UC campuses. Corey Jackson, our chief human resources officer, serves on a workgroup addressing transparency and continuous improvement through data.
“For my particular committee, we’ve met once and are looking into how data are collected on the various campuses and to see what kind of information can be shared publicly in order to be more transparent,” Corey says. His group is considering whether UC should have standardized means of collecting data that can be used to evaluate campus safety practices. What kind of data is needed? How should it be collected? Once collected, how should it be shared? The group hopes that to share as much data as is legally permissible.
Leah says her group is working “to ensure a systemwide standard in those areas that are in alignment with the values, guidelines, and actions of the UC community safety plan” – specifically to ensure that “everyone feels welcome, safe, respected, and protected from harm.” One idea to help achieve that goal is to make sure all UC police and security officers are easily identifiable. The group will study whether officers on all campuses should have identical uniforms and cars. In addition, if we start using specially trained officers to deal with sensitive situations that could involve the mental health of an individual, as has been proposed in many places, what kind of uniform should be issued, let alone the skill set needed?
Lots of questions! I’ll reconnect with Leah and Corey about the progress of their respective groups.
In his 1994 address at the National Day of Safety and Security, South African President Nelson Mandela said, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” Indeed – and we owe it to each other.
Dan’s Tip of the Month
Each year for the December Expresso, my tip is something that I think folks would enjoy either for themselves or to share with family and friends. In past years I have suggested books, but this year I’ve come up with three holiday gift ideas that I think are fun, eclectic choices, with a range of prices:
- Trader Joe’s Reusable Kitchen Cloth – great alternative to the kitchen sponge.
- Apple AirTags – amazingly effective device for tracking keys, luggage, kids, etc.
- Ororo Heated Clothing – game-changer for reliably staying warm outside and keeping the chill at bay. I’ve had my heated fleece vest for two years now and absolutely love it.
I’m also looking for novel gift ideas, so please send them my way! But again, above all, happy holidays!