My guest today is Julia Jeffries, second year medical student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Welcome to OpEdNews, Julia. I understand that you are going to be participating in a white coat die-in. Can you please tell us about this?
JJ: Hi, Joan. Thanks for having me. And yes, that's correct. Tomorrow, December 10th, in honor of Human Rights Day, over 50 medical schools across the country have joined in solidarity to hold 'die-ins' at their respective schools. These 'die-ins' are an act of peaceful protest to call-out the systemic racism that exists in our societies, cities, curricula, and classrooms and that effects our colleagues, friends, families, and future patients.
JB: This seems to be a radical departure for medical students. Or am I mistaken? How did this event come together? 50 medical schools in different cities and states - that's huge!
JJ: I think the recent grand jury decisions regarding Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York have shaken people up and have really made folks think more about the explicit and implicit ways that racism pervades different facets of our system. Medical students and the medical profession are certainly not exempt from those biases that exist. I think it's important that we speak out as future care providers and acknowledge the power medical professionals are given over bodies, and how that power exerts itself over bodies that are seemingly valued less in our society. There were 'die-ins' beginning at various medical schools individually, one of them being UCSF who actually released a statement last weekend. Once it was clear that this could gain more momentum, people really worked hard to coordinate and ensure that the effort was strong and solid in its message and the way it was carried through.
JB: Were you surprised by the speed with which this came together? And kudos: The die-in is a perfect pairing with Human Rights Day. What exactly is going to happen tomorrow?
JJ: Yes, definitely. It happened really fast and I'm really moved and inspired by my peers and colleagues. Thanks for the kudos, we're really excited. The details of tomorrow will vary from school to school, but the basic idea is for students to gather in a central location of their medical school and protest by participating in a die-in. Some schools will have students wearing their white coats, while others will be dressed in all black. The protest can last for however long the organizers decide, typically it has been for about 11 minutes. Signs will also be available.
JB: That should be dramatic. Are you all arranging for press coverage? A YouTube or two, perhaps? What's happening at your school, for instance, Julia? Do you expect just a handful of your colleagues to show up or many more? And did either the medical school or the hospital give you a hard time about the event itself or your participation in it?
JJ: We're hoping to get some press coverage. People are being encouraged to reach out to local TV stations, radio stations, etc. At Sinai, we have about 70 people listed as 'attending' the event on facebook, but I can't be sure how many will show up. Regardless, we will be in a very central area of the school and hospital, so we won't be missed.
So far, this has been a completely student-led effort and we have not received pushback from the administration or hospital.
JB: That's good to hear; I love grass-roots efforts! I can't wait to hear how it goes and see some of the dramatic pictures from the event. Is this your first venture into activism?
JJ: I can't wait either! It's very exciting. I've been to protests and marches in the past but this is certainly the closest I've come to organizing and participating in activism in this way. It feels really empowering and I'm grateful for my classmates and the other students around the country who are so committed to this.
JB: [Julia and I agreed to wait to finish the interview until after the Die-In.] It's a day later now. The Die-In happened earlier today, correct? How did it go, Julia?
JJ: That's correct. The Die-In happened earlier today. The event at Sinai went very smoothly. We were really pleased with the turn-out.
JB: Wonderful. What did you find out about other Die-Ins around the country?
JJ: From what I heard the Die-Ins were successful at other schools and people are really pleased with how the organization and dedication to this day played out. We have gotten national coverage. HuffPost Black Voices has an article with pictures from a number of medical schools across the country. The protests were also covered in a video montage tonight on MSNBC.