GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 2

This is a guest post by Rhea Misra, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

In reading “The Black Politics of Eugenics,” I learned about how eugenics was not initially a negative concept. Eugenics relates to the idea of human improvement through reproduction and understanding hereditary. It has been associated with Nazi doctrine; however, Nuriddin brings up in the article that, at one point, eugenics was embraced by marginalized communities to combat scientific racism and improve racial equality. The idea that marginalized communities would embrace eugenics to combat scientific racism, reminds me how slurs and negative concepts are reclaimed by these same communities that are harmed by such things to bring about improvement or change. This article also made me reflect on if eugenics, in the modern times, could ever have a positive association? I am not sure I have an answer to that. On one hand and thinking about the research I conduct, genomic editing tools such as using CRISPR or AAVs to make changes to genome have become commonplace.  Because of the inherent nature of these genetic tools, do they fall under the category of eugenics? They have been used to treat diseases. In a previous course, I had met a patient who had undergone gene therapy to treat his hemophilia, and now no longer requires blood transfusions. But on the other hand, gene editing tools have been used in some cases to make cosmetic edits. The whole idea of human improvement in eugenics comes with deeming certain traits better than the other; thus, marginalizing certain groups of people. Because of the inherent “othering” that comes with eugenics, I can understand how it quickly turned into a negative concept utilized to uphold a racist system rather than breaking it down.

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Jackie Roger, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Program in Bioinformatics (BI)

During our class on 5/21, we learned about the term “biopolitics”. After our discussion in class, I wanted to learn more about it and ended up doing some additional reading. Biopolitics, conceptualized by Michel Foucault, is the intersection of life and politics. In practice, it is the governance and control of human life. Many of the topics that we have covered in class can be contextualized within biopolitics.

On 5/17 we talked about forced sterilizations in California prisons. This was a mechanism for controlling who could and could not procreate, and was deeply rooted in white supremacist ideologies. On 5/24 we discussed the hysteria in the 1980s about the “crack baby epidemic” that never ended up happening and had no reasonable scientific basis. There was widespread panic about the possibility of babies born with physical and cognitive disabilities, but little concern about the lack of resources and support for women with substance use disorders. In both of these examples, the focus was on the child-bearing potential of women, and not on the personhood of women. Both forced sterilizations and public hysteria were used to police who should be having children.

On 5/19 we reviewed the Tuskegee syphilis study, and on 5/26 we drew parallels between the racial disparities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the ongoing COVID pandemic. In all three of these examples, the medical system prioritized white lives over black lives. There was significant investment in caring for white patients, while black patients were often neglected or mistreated.

UCSF Library and San Francisco poets create space for the San Francisco community to “Pause, Breathe, and Re-Connect” during the COVID-19 pandemic

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This is a guest post by Dr. Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen, a primary care doctor and researcher at UCSF and the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. 

As social distancing rules and regulations begin to relax, many of us are feeling the strain of prolonged social isolation and re-learning how to reach out to others.

On April 29th, 2021, 48 San Francisco and UCSF community members gathered virtually during the lunch hour on Zoom for a series of poetry readings and discussion centered around the human experience of medicine. Farah Hamade, the inaugural UCSF Library Artist-in-Residence, took visual notes and created an art piece that represents the event and experience (featured below).

Pause, Breath, Re-Connect artwork.
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved

Three poets—Kathleen McClung, Sharon Pretti, and Peggy Tahir—were selected through a submissions process from the San Francisco community to read their work. Sharon Pretti read a series of poems written during and after her brother’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventual death. Kathleen McClung read a sequence of sonnets inspired by her partner and her experiences navigating his treatment and surgery for a pituitary mass.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

Peggy Tahir read a series of poems written for each radiation treatment she underwent for breast cancer. The readings were followed by a 10-second pause to create space for reflection and a rich discussion.

Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen closed the event with a reading from The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, which can be accessed here: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/02/14/sharing-love/.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

The introduction of the event and poetry readings were recorded with the poets’ permission. The recording was turned off for the discussion and closing to create a more comfortable, intimate space. After the event, the poetry reading recording, Farah Hamade’s art piece and a poem by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen was shared with event registrants and the public.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

The public can access the recording at the following link: https://archive.org/details/ucsf-pause-breathe-re-connect-poetry-and-discussion-2021-1.

The event was organized by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen, Farah Hamade, Polina Ilieva, and Joanna Kang with support from the UCSF Library.