World and national news are filled with dire stories that can add anxiety to our already compressed days. On January 15 in Colleyville, Texas, a rabbi and three others were taken hostage at Congregation Beth Israel. The world is on tenterhooks about the potential invasion of Ukraine and, closer to home, our national midterm elections. We mourn the death of individuals like Thich Nhat Hanh, who dedicated his life to promoting peace around the world. I encourage you to take the time to reflect on and seek resources to help with how you’re feeling, whether about these or the countless other reasons that can cause feelings of anger, fear, and grief.
February is Black History Month. In this Expresso, you’ll read about the steadfast work of UCSF colleagues who are confronting racism within research, as well as critical issues of climate change and the impact of both on public health. I also have a story about how the art in our public spaces came to be and how a group of volunteer faculty, staff, and learners has stepped up to ensure that art remains in our UCSF lives in a meaningful way.
This month’s topics:
- Viewing Research Through an Anti-Racist Lens: Task force recommendations
- The Climate Change–Health Connection: How you can help
- Art, Science, and Health: UCSF keeps an eye on its collection
To kick off the new year, last month I asked you to share your hopes for 2022 with me, but if you didn’t have an opportunity, please add your hopes for the Year of the Tiger, which begins today! We’ll share these in March.
February also brings us Valentine’s Day. Maybe this year, think of love in its broadest sense and check out LoveYou2.org – “a hub for the exchange of love in its many forms; …a place to get love when you need some, and give love when you have it.” Who knows, it might become a daily practice like it did for its creator Shannon Weber, formerly of UCSF.
Lastly, while we have two or three fewer days this month, we have another holiday weekend! Do you have something special planned to help you relax and rejuvenate?
Your feedback is important to me. Please drop me a line at [email protected].
Viewing Research Through an Anti-Racist Lens: Task force recommendations
I am sure everyone in the UCSF community is aware of our commitment to rooting out institutional racism. Among the initiatives underway, I appointed a task force to bring a laser focus on our research activities to rethink our approach to being inclusive. I specifically charged the group to recommend ways we can implement structural change toward racial equity within our research community.
The UCSF Office of Research Task Force on Equity and Anti-Racism met for six months – “not nearly enough time to solve the problem entirely,” said Monica McLemore of the School of Nursing, one of the task force co-leaders. Faculty and staff from all four schools and UCSF Health were represented as well as community members from external organizations, and I agree with and appreciate the contributions of every member.
“We knew that, number one, this needed to be a permanent group,” Monica says. “We knew we were just providing a foundation and a roadmap.”
The task force will indeed continue, and it will evolve with the contributions of numerous other groups on campus that are addressing racism in its many forms, including, of course, the Office of Diversity and Outreach. Tung Nguyen, in the School of Medicine and task force co-lead, has worked in health equity for twenty-two years, including with the Research Action Group for Equity (RAGE) and the Differences Matter initiative in the School of Medicine.
After the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black people before them, and the way the pandemic particularly devastated underrepresented and underserved communities, Tung posed a question: “Are we going to address these sufferings by creating institutional change, or will things continue to be business as usual?”
The task force came up with 164 recommendations, which were then made available for public comment. These generally fall within four urgent, topline areas to which UCSF needs to commit resources:
- Establish a system of accountability on anti-racism and equity for the UCSF research enterprise.
- Promote and support UCSF anti-racism scholarship.
- Create and support a more diverse UCSF research workforce.
- Promote and support community-engaged research.
“There are very few explicitly anti-racist research papers, and we want to be a leader at UCSF. There is no way to get to anti-racism work without engaging our communities,” Tung says, pointing out that community members were integral in serving on the task force alongside UCSF folks.
To ensure this work is realized, the task force proposes creating a new position, an associate vice chancellor for Research Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, overseeing the task force’s work going forward. Please stay tuned for further details regarding this opportunity.
We’ll also keep going with a program we piloted last year, with funding from CTSI, the Academic Senate, and others, toward awarding Research Allocation Program (RAP) grants for anti-racism research and how it can help uproot damaging racial hierarchies.
I agree with Monica and Tung. We need to really examine the many ways in which research can be exclusionary. It’s critical that we engage communities, rather than impose solutions from outside. Monica is involved in a lot of community-engaged research that directly seeks and honors the expertise and wisdom of communities to understand what they want and need as well as to be able to develop strategies and solutions.
The process needs to be rigorous. Monica says, “How do we deploy the scientific method to ask questions that move us towards a deeper, broader understanding of human existence, of health, of human services?”
It’s not going to be easy, and it will require challenging but necessary conversations. “We have to be willing to have conflict and pushback and dialogue about what the right positions are when it comes to priorities and resources,” Tung says. “The whole point of anti-racism work is, you have to challenge every single thing. When someone says there’s a resource limitation, what does that mean? Saying that we don’t have resources is how institutions sustain structural racism.”
Indeed, we must seize this opportunity and maintain our focus on ensuring equity and inclusion within all UCSF research activities. No matter how uncomfortable it gets.
The Climate Change–Health Connection: How you can help
Are you feeling the enormity of the dire situation of our planet like I am?
After the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, I felt dispirited by the outcome. The future ability to reign in greenhouse gases hinges on promises and compromises – while developing countries must make a plea for climate justice.
It seems overwhelming, but I’m trying to not be distracted by the sheer magnitude of the problem and focus instead on what we can all do. I’m inspired by many people at UCSF who are leading the charge. We have two major plans of attack in this battle against the detrimental impacts of humankind on our planet: First, as part of the University of California system, we have to get our own house in order, and are mandated to become carbon-neutral by 2025 – yes, 2025 – fewer than three years from now.
And second, we have members of the UCSF community who are striving to convey to the world the increasingly obvious and devastating connection between climate change and human health. If we can prevent the worst results of climate change, we can have an enormous impact on people’s health – it’s our mission.
In early 2020, UCSF established the Center for Climate, Health and Equity. It was just getting off the ground when the pandemic hit. Stalled for six months, it’s kicked into gear, with even more ambition.
The center’s leaders are Arianne Teherani and Sheri Weiser, who both serve on the UC Office of the President Global Climate Leadership Council. This group and its sub-groups set the goal of carbon neutrality across the UC system by 2025. Arianne and Sheri proposed that UCOP establish the UCSF center as a systemwide entity working across all ten UC campuses.
The center has four pillars, each of which intersects with justice and community:
- Research: Generate a solution-focused body of evidence on climate-health pathways and interventions.
- Education: Leverage UC expertise to teach everyone – not just college students, but faculty, staff, community members, and even students at the K-12 level. (We all need to learn about the climate-health connection.)
- Health care: Make UC a national leader in models for green and climate-smart health care systems and make the UC Health system responsive to the climate-sensitive needs of patients and communities. (We don’t want our hospitals and clinics adding to the problem.)
- Policy: Translate evidence and experience into action. (We need our lawmakers and communities to be able to apply the latest climate and health science towards action.)
Climate change is affecting health in a multitude of ways. “It’s everywhere,” Arianne says. It’s an asthma attack, particularly during a wildfire event, even miles away, as we know. It’s sea level rise – bringing pollution to an already distressed community. It’s heat waves, hurricanes, floods, drought – you name it.
Sheri is an expert on food insecurity and began to make the connection. “Climate change is driving food insecurity and poor health worldwide,” she says. Droughts and other severe weather events are wreaking havoc on agriculture, with downstream health impacts.
Yet there are solutions. Sheri worked on a program in Kenya, giving people loans to purchase farming implements like human-powered water pumps to irrigate land during prolonged dry seasons. “We trained participants on regenerative agriculture to help to replete the soil of essential nutrients by growing vegetables instead of monocrops like rice and maize,” she says.
Equity is an important part of the equation, since we know that many people in underserved and underrepresented areas don’t have the resources to cope with climate change and will likely suffer the worst consequences. In one of the biggest injustices of all, “communities and nations that have the least responsibility for carbon emissions impacting the atmosphere will be the most impacted by it,” says UCSF Sustainability Director Gail Lee.
Meanwhile, work goes on at UCSF to make sure our own operations are as green as possible. Gail has some startling news: We had set a goal to restore our level of carbon emissions to what it was in 1990 – before we built Mission Bay – and in 2020, we met that goal! Most remarkable is that our building square footage increased from 5M to 11M over that time. Focus on increased energy efficiency in our existing buildings was the major factor.
There’s a pretty big asterisk on that one: The pandemic shut down most of our commutes and put a ban on business travel, enabling us to just hit the target.
Gail is waiting for the final 2021 numbers to see if we’ll need to buy carbon offsets. One contributing reason could be that many people who have returned to in-person work are no longer taking public transportation, choosing to drive instead. (And while travel is inviting, please reconsider the need for business travel wherever possible.) As COVID-19 continues to spread and people are concerned about being in tight spaces, more emissions may follow, but purchasing offsets is not the ideal way to achieve carbon neutrality.
What can we as individuals do? Think about the many ways to green your life.
The UCSF Office of Sustainability has a fantastic website with resources that will provide guidance toward lowering your own as well as UCSF’s carbon footprint. You’ll find a range of content, from energy-saving practices for your lab to discounts on solar panels for your home from a trusted vendor.
If you have a specific question, you should get in touch with Gail directly – she has such deep knowledge and passion for the subject and is more than happy to be a resource. Not only does she know where the rebates and write-offs are, she walks the walk, too: She has solar power, battery storage, a tankless water heater, and an electric car. And for renters who may not be able to buy such items, she can help connect them to organizations that advocate for them.
As Norm Harry, former chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said, “What’s good for the fish is what’s good for the people.”
Please take some time to think about how you can be a part of the solution.
Art, Science, and Health: UCSF keeps an eye on its collection
It bears repeating that art is vitally important to the work of healing and recovery, as well as to our daily lives as researchers, educators, learners, and everyday citizens of the world.
Thankfully, UCSF is home to some fantastic public art at both Parnassus and Mission Bay. How did this come to be? For many decades UCSF had a Committee on Art, Honors, and Recognition. With a very modest budget, the committee – comprising faculty, staff, and student representatives and a professional art consultant – brought wonderful exhibitions to the Library and eventually a few site-specific commissions to Parnassus and Laurel Heights. We have an intriguing collection of art in the Library, consisting of works mostly donated over the years to the University.
In 2002, former Chancellor J. Michael Bishop appointed the Mission Bay Art Committee, which worked steadily over many years to collect an impressive array of artworks, eventually named the J. Michael Bishop Art Collection at Mission Bay. Alas, with the 2008 economic crisis, the budgets for both committees were cut, and efforts all but ceased in 2013.
But the power of art cannot be suppressed nor the need to beautify our environment, and many in our UCSF community are highly enthusiastic about the benefits of art. They want to engage and organize the University in the oversight of its public art collection and bring new art to our public spaces.
To channel this energy and help with other art-related matters, an all-volunteer Art Committee was appointed a year ago. Michelle Mourad, professor in the School of Medicine, and Alicia Murasaki, our campus architect and assistant vice chancellor of Campus Planning, co-lead the committee, which gives us what we’ve long lacked since 2013: a body to consult on the acquisition, relocation, and deaccession of works of art, whether on campus or as part of UCSF Health.
Michelle joined the committee in a roundabout way. In 2015, when acute care for the elderly moved to the 15th floor of Long Hospital at Parnassus, Michelle was dismayed by the bare white walls. “I was desperate to get art on the walls,” she says, and advocated for the importance of art, even if it meant providing patients with adult coloring pages and letting them participate in the beautification of the unit.
Although the project went in a different direction, administrators took note of her passion for art and nominated her for the committee. Others filled the ranks in similar fashion: Stephen McLeod, chair emeritus of ophthalmology, was alarmed to discover no budget to decorate the walls at the newly opened Wayne and Gladys Valley Center for Vision at Mission Bay. “Ophthalmology is very much committed to vision,” Stephen notes with a touch of irony. So, he partnered with the Pier 24 Photography museum, which connected him to prominent photographers who contributed their work to the building.
These folks join others with expertise in our buildings and collections, or keen interest in art, like Diane Ngo, program manager for the Department of Surgery and an amateur artist who found healing in her pursuit of watercolor and mixed media art.
Romobia Hutchinson, department manager in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, and Mono Simeone, GIS manager in Real Estate Services, serve on the committee as well as on its historical and promotions work group. They’ll be rolling up their sleeves to delve into the inventory of artworks, exploring ways to give greater visibility to our public art collection.
Twenty strong, the members are doing great work, looking with intention at the current UCSF collection and how it fits with our mission, vision, and values. They are also considering diversity and inclusion goals, and how art may sometimes work in a manner contrary to our core beliefs. (See the October 2021 issue of Expresso for a story about the Zakheim murals.)
“One of the important challenges our committee is exploring is our responsibility for the historical art that has decorated our public spaces for a long time,” Michelle says. “If the purpose is to enrich and uplift and inspire, we have to take a critical eye to our current public and ask: Does it still serve that purpose for our community? Our committee has thought a lot about how we do that,” she says. “We’ve really focused on bringing diverse voices – clinicians, non-clinicians, patients, students, researchers – to ensure our art represents the diversity of UCSF and our community.”
Other considerations and issues present themselves in different ways, like when someone wants to donate art to UCSF. Does it contribute to our efforts to be a diverse and inclusive University? Do we have the necessary and appropriate space to display the artwork? Does it promote healing and recovery?
To guide members through its decision-making process, the committee is developing a master plan. The committee is in the process of engaging with an art consultant who has the expertise to advise the University on matters of art acquisition, deaccession, and relocation.
“With a university, the imperative is, how are you provoking thought, how are you stimulating dialogue, how are you making people think and feel? Whereas in a hospital, the imperative tends to be, how are you using art to comfort? At UCSF, we’re challenged to bring the two together,” Stephen says. “That complexity frames the way the art committee is working to bring some coherent universality to the work.”
Serving on this diverse committee also revealed something else to him: “It’s amazing to me to see how generous people are with their time, how much they love art, and my goodness, how much they know about art.”
I am thrilled that the engagement will continue and that the passion for art runs deep at UCSF.
Dan’s Tip of the Month
As winter proceeds, watching the birds still around us can be a meditative and uplifting experience. We have to actually stop and focus our gaze to see them clearly, and when we do, it can be so rewarding. I am grateful to have as a colleague Robert Ho, who is a passionate bird photographer. His osprey photo was featured in the top 100 Audubon Photography Awards in 2020, and by sending me these two gorgeous photos of local birds – the great egret at Crissy Field and red-shouldered hawk at the Presidio – he reminded me once again to take a pause to view the world with intent and joy. For more amazing photos, the 2021 Audubon Photography Awards: Top 100 are truly inspirational. And if you haven’t done so already, please check out Cornell Lab’s “Merlin” birding app that I recommended as a Tip last September – it’s astounding!
Photos: Robert Ho