Celebrating Black faculty at UCSF, past and present

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By Erin Hurley, User Services and Accessioning Archivist

We are currently more than halfway through Black History Month, a month that takes on special significance this year, following a summer of protests asserting, yet again, that Black Lives Matter. Archives & Special Collections would be remiss if we failed to mention the groundbreaking Black faculty at UCSF, both past and present, who have made significant contributions to the fields of medicine and psychology (as well as many others), and, who, in their work, have found ways to illuminate new facets of racism previously unconsidered and who, on their paths to success, have also sought to support and lift up others.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove is a social psychiatrist who served as Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) from 1983 until 1990. Her work sits at the intersection of mental health and public health, and she focuses, in her own description, on the “sources and consequences of inequality, with a focus on the American city,” including segregation, gentrification, and the impact of these forces on the mental and physical health of Black families. [1] She is the author of numerous books, including The Black Family: Mental Health Perspectives and Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It.[2] Most recently, she has co-edited a volume titled From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence. In 2018, she gave a TED talk which gives an overview of her work and her personal history and outlines her hopes for achieving equality.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove

Eritrean surgeon Haile T. Debas has, many times over, served as an example of what Black leadership can look like, and has shown how it can benefit others in a variety of ways. Debas, who came to UCSF in 1987 to serve as the Chair of the Department of Surgery, specializes in gastrointestinal physiology. During his time as Chair, UCSF “became one of the country’s leading centers for transplant surgery, the training of young surgeons, and basic and clinical research in surgery.”[3] He then went on to serve as the Dean of the School of Medicine for 10 years, from 1993-2003. In 1997, he was appointed as the 7th Chancellor of UCSF, a position that he agreed to hold for one year while also serving as Dean of the School of Medicine.

Haile T. Debas, photo courtesy of UCSF University Relations

Debas, in his long and distinguished career, has demonstrated a commitment to serving underserved areas, from his work in the Yukon Territories, where he practiced surgery early in his career, to a long-held dream of establishing a medical school in Eritrea. It was this commitment that led him to establish, in 2009, the UC Global Health Institute, which sought to leverage the expertise and resources of all ten UC campuses to address global health issues, which he says are “so big that single disciplines can’t tackle them.”[4] He also served as Executive Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences (GHS), established in 2003, which focuses on issues like diseases of poverty, chronic illnesses, and the global threat posed by certain infectious diseases, like COVID-19.

His work in global health has informed his support for women’s empowerment movements, and he notes, “In global health, women’s empowerment is the critical element—nothing will be accomplished to a successful end without women’s support.”[5] Debas also established the UCSF Department of Surgery’s Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students, which offers fourth year medical students a sub-internship in the Department of Surgery, as well as a $2,500 stipend.[6]  Debas appears often in Archives & Special Collections materials, as a part of the Office of the Dean’s records, as well as in the Global Health Sciences records and the Oral History collection.


[1] “Faculty – Mindy Fullilove,” The New School Milano, accessed February 18, 2021,  https://www.newschool.edu/milano/faculty/mindy-fullilove/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Haile Debas, MD,” UCSF Department of Surgery, accessed February 18, 2021, https://surgery.ucsf.edu/faculty/general-surgery/haile-debas,-md.aspx.

[4] Rachel Cox, “10 years, 10 campuses, one trailblazing career: Haile Debas reflects on UCGHI,” November 5, 2019, https://ucghi.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/10-years-10-campuses-one-trailblazing-career-haile-debas-reflects-ucghi.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alexi Callen, “UCSF Department of Surgery Accepting Applications for 2020 Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students,” April 21, 2020, https://surgery.ucsf.edu/news-events/ucsf-news.aspx?id=84895/UCSF Department of Surgery Accepting Applications for 2020 Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students.

Save Our Stories: Support AIDS History Archive

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https://givingtogether.ucsf.edu/fundraiser/2359886

Over the past three decades, UCSF Archives & Special Collections has played a vital role in documenting the AIDS epidemic.

We are seeking your help to maintain and grow the AIDS History Project (AHP) archive as a critical, one-of-a-kind public record of the institutions and individuals involved in containing and treating the HIV both locally, and worldwide.

Please help support the UCSF AIDS History Project. We are hoping you will donate today and help us raise $50,000 by 2/1/2020 – please take a moment to do it now.

Your generosity advances vital work to collect, preserve, and provide universal access to stories of the AIDS epidemic.

35 years have passed since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and many of the original researchers, health care providers, and community activists who were on the front lines of defense against HIV have now begun to retire from public service. There is an urgent need to collect, preserve, and provide open access to their collections.

Your support will allow us to:

  • Catalog and digitize recently acquired collections, including, papers of Drs. Jay Levy and Steven G. Deeks, SF AIDS Foundation records
  • Record a new set of oral histories with clinicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech scientists, health care workers, activists, community members, patients, and their family members
  • Expand the AIDS History Project statewide scope, solicit and acquire material fro regional community health centers
  • Organize exhibits and public events to share materials and stories preserved in the archives

Read more and donate.

With gratitude,
UCSF Archives & Special Collections team

Dr. Elbridge Best and Base Hospital 30 in WWI

This is a guest post by Cristina Nigro, UCSF History of Health Sciences graduate student and curator of the UCSF Archives WWI exhibit.

Each year on the last Monday of May, our nation commemorates U.S. service members from all wars who died while on active duty. On this Memorial Day we pay special homage to the servicemen and women of World War I, as 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the U.S. entrance into WWI.

Elbridge Best. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

Dr. Elbridge Best, graduate of the UC Medical School class of 1911 who later joined the UCSF faculty, served in WWI at Base Hospital No. 30 in Royat, France. Base Hospital No. 30 was organized by the UC Medical School in March 1917—the month before President Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war with Germany. In a 1964 interview, Best recalled the early mobilization effort by him and his colleagues who “felt that the war was imminent” and who “were a little concerned with regard to the possible slowness of the White House deciding to declare war.”

Officers and enlisted personnel. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

Before leaving for the front, Best was put to work in the aviation unit established in San Francisco. He helped to medically examine applicants for the aviation corps in the summer and fall of 1917. Best was later transferred from the aviation unit to the Presidio in San Francisco. There, he “did regular duty until the mobilization of the Base Hospital 30 in November when we then stopped our other activities, lived as a unit until the transportation was arranged and we boarded the ship at Fort Mason to proceed down the west coast.”

The unit arrived in New York harbor in March 1918, staying at Camp Merritt for about a month before embarking on the journey abroad. Best recalled his experience with an influenza epidemic in New York at the time: “Many of the Army men were taken to the Rockefeller hospital for treatment. And each of the cases where fluid was found in the chest the procedure was to immediately insert a needle and draw the fluid. It became very evident that whenever we saw this done we would say to a friend that we will see this body in the morgue the next morning. So many of these boys died following the removal of the acute fluid that when we went to France we made it a rule never to draw any fluid off until after we were sure there was frank pus and it should be treated surgically. The result was that we lost none of those cases which were the cause of the high mortality at the Rockefeller hospital.”

Base Hospital #30 at Royat, France. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album

The staff of Base Hospital No. 30 arrived in Royat, France in May 1918. Best remembered that casualties were sent to the hospital soon after the unit arrived: “They came almost as soon as we had most of our material unpacked….The casualties from the front came down to us on trains, Red Cross trains, arranged with beds. And we removed the patients from the trains by way of the windows ordinarily. The one train was full of gas injuries, phosgene and mustard gas. Another trainload came all shot-up which the debridement had been done at the front. These trains ordinarily did not have mixed cases—they were usually all of one type—and they usually contained from four to five hundred wounded at a time.”

Loading patients on “D” train. From the Photograph collection, W, World War I.

Best recalled suddenly learning of the armistice on November 11, 1918: “Everybody was elated and as soon as the evening meal was over on that day, all of those who were not on duty went the three kilometer distance to Clermont-Ferrand to celebrate this notable event…After the armistice, some of us had the privilege of visiting French families in various country areas…We would go and have tea with a certain family or we would have dinner with some people or they would have a reception in which French and American people in the vicinity would appear. I am particularly reminded of one French family we visited in a lovely, old-style two story wooden home on a farm…These people spoke no English and we had to converse in French. And the philosophy, the problems, the day-by- day incidents that these people would gossip with us about were exactly the same as those that we would encounter among families in similar positions in the United States. The only difference between these delightful people and the people in our homes were that they spoke French and we spoke English.”

Misses Dunn and Ireland [nurses] leaving Clermont-Ferrand. From the John Homer Woolsey papers, MSS 70-5, box 1, photograph album.

None of the doctors, nurses, or dentists from UCSF who served their country during the Great War died in active duty, but all have since passed on. UCSF Archives and the UCSF History of Health Sciences Graduate Program honor their legacy with an exhibit, “DO THE BEST FOR OUR SOLDIERS”: University of California Medical Service in World War I, on display now on the main floor of the UCSF Library, 530 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco, through April 2018. It is free and open to the public during Library hours.

View more WWI images and documents from the UCSF Archives collections on Calisphere.