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.

Dr. Robert E. Allen, Jr., First Black Clinical Professor of Surgery at UCSF

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Robert E. Allen, Jr., MD, (1935-2018), was born in Blountstown, Florida and always aspired to become a doctor. In pursuit of his dreams, Allen received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Florida A&M University, master’s degree in Genetics from Michigan State University, and a doctorate in Medicine from Meharry Medical College. He completed his residency in surgery at UC San Francisco, and a fellowship in surgery oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Allen also completed two additional postdoctoral fellowships in surgery at the National Institute of Health and peripheral vascular research at San Francisco General Hospital. As a SFGH fellow in trauma, he organized the ambulance paramedic program while training under F. William Blaisdell, MD.

Robert Allen Jr. in hospital, David Powers collection, 1990-1991
Robert Allen Jr., David Powers collection, 1990-1991

Dr. Allen began his career at UCSF as a Surgical Oncologist, specializing in Melanoma Surgery. He soon became the first Black Clinical Professor of Surgery at UC San Francisco, serving as a faculty member for over four decades.

Allen was a cofounder of the Northern California Melanoma Center with Dr. Lynn E. Spitler and other surgeons. Here, he participated in consultation panels and surgeries on the Center’s patients until his retirement.

He has authored many articles for medical periodicals, wrote chapters in medical publications, and spoke a medical conventions throughout the United States and Europe. In addition, he was a member of various honor societies, including the UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society.

To learn more about Dr. Allen’s work, check out these articles:

https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.31378005703296?urlappend=%3Bseq=416

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Allen+RE+Jr

*Authored by Jazmin Dew*

Health and Social Justice Pioneer, Dr. Vicki Alexander

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Vicki Alexander at SFGH with group of patients. Perinatal Health Project.
Vicki Alexander at SFGH. Perinatal Health Project.

Vicki Alexander, MD, has dedicated her life to improving the social determinants of public health.

Alexander attended the UC San Francisco, where she completed her medical degree and residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1974. She went on to Columbia University, where she obtained her master’s degree in Public Health.

Dr. Alexander began as an Ob-Gyn Clinical Instructor at San Francisco General Hospital. She soon became the director of SFGH’s Perinatal Health Project, which served high-risk mothers and infants in the community. Alexander then relocated to New York, working as a clinical instructor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Harlem Hospital. Eventually, she returned to the west coast and became the Maternal Child Health Director and Health Officer for the City of Berkeley until she retired in 2006.

Vicki Alexander at SFGH with mother and child. Perinatal Health Project.
Vicki Alexander at SFGH. Perinatal Health Project.

Alexander has participated in many organizations to improve the living conditions for women and children, including: Rainbow Coalition, Center for Constitutional Rights, Reproductive Rights National Network, Planned Parenthood, City Material and Child Health.

In 1978, she established the Coalition to Fight Infant Mortality in Oakland, which helped women with medical care and social issues.

In 2000, Alexander began the Black Infant Health program in Berkeley, which grew from her coalition at Highland Hospital. This was the foundational step to the creation of the Alameda County Coalition to decrease infant mortality.

Alexander is also the current founder and board president of Healthy Black Families (HBF), Inc., which dovetails with the Black Infant Health program. It was founded as a non-profit organization in July 2013 to support the health, growth, development, and future of Black individuals and families.

For her devotion towards health and social justice, Dr. Vicki has won many awards, including: Women of the Year Award (2011); Martin Luther King, Lifetime Achievement Award (2014); National Jefferson Award for Community Service (2015); Alameda County African American Black History Month Award (2017); Madame CJ Walker Award for Black Women (2017); and 15th Assembly District Woman of the Year Award (2017).

To learn more about Dr. Vicki, check out these articles available in our digital collection on HathiTrust and Synapse Archive:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005703288&view=plaintext&seq=173
https://synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19791004-01.2.3&srpos=3&e=——-en–20–1–txt-%22vicki+alexander%22—–txIN–
https://synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19800605-01.2.2&srpos=4&e=——-en–20–1–txt-%22vicki+alexander%22—–txIN–

*Authored by Jazmin Dew*