A conversation about important issues
Universities should be places where difficult conversations are held in an atmosphere of civility, empathy and a desire to understand. I was proud of the students who presented “Health Activism in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement: A Panel Discussion,” an event at the Gillings School last week. Patsy Polston, MPH, a doctoral candidate in en-vironmental sciences and engineering and co-president of the School’s student government, acted as master of ceremonies, and many students from across the health affairs schools were central to the event’s planning and production. Rumay Alexander, EdD, RN, clinical professor and director of multicultural affairs in the School of Nursing, was the poised and articulate host for a panel of four accomplished individuals who responded to her questions and those from the audience.
As one of the panelists said, the group convened to celebrate the brilliance, humanity and resilience of black Americans. As the Gillings School dean, I feel privileged to have been witness to the panelists’ and audience members’ wisdom and experience, some of which was painfully acquired. Being there for me meant standing with our students for diversity and inclusion. I was grateful that Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs for our School; Elizabeth French, MA, dean’s liaison for special initiatives; and Pamela Lee, MA, administrative support specialist in the dean’s office, also attended.
Here are just a few of the messages we heard:
- Be fearless in the face of hate, unfairness and injustice.
- It begins with us. We can change the culture of UNC-Chapel Hill to be more welcoming, supportive and inclusive.
- We should not sit on the sidelines.
- We must marry system changes with culture change. Culture change is essential.
- Positive persistence pays.
- What kinds of incremental changes can we make to improve our schools and university? These changes add up.
- Each of us can bring something to the table where change is concerned.
- We owe each other respect—i.e., we accept the legitimacy of others.
- It’s not about race; it’s about racism.
Of course, change will not happen as a result of one night or a few events. Making our School and the University more diverse and inclusive requires unwavering commitment—and our action. We’ve got to keep at it.