This is what the SNMA Executive Board had to say after reflecting on the past few months following the open letter addressing anti-Blackness and racism at Mount Sinai and the broader medical community.
This year we’ve been confronted by two pandemics that have warranted a hard pause and deep introspection. Personally, it’s made me reflect on my faith, failures, value to self and others, particularly as a Black body, and the power of community. While I struggle with my faith in the supernatural at times, this process has reaffirmed my faith in people. I recognize the work and voices of our ancestors, mentors and fellow classmates which have allowed us to harness our vulnerability and share our vision. This process has shone light on the values we must be willing to defend together: humanity, connection, truth and healing- which gives me hope.
SNMA was inspired by the events of this summer to reflect more on our own experiences and Mount Sinai’s institutional history. Coming to Sinai with a love of anthropology and history, I felt it was important to centralize and capture the long legacy of leadership and activism by Black students, staff, and faculty. This is not only to see how far we have come, but to also see how much farther we can go. As a result, we have partnered with the Arthur H. Aufses Archives to create a digital archive documenting the history of the Black community at the Icahn School of Medicine. Through a series of interviews with alumni, staff, and faculty, we are hoping to reconstruct the evolution of the community through pivotal moments, like the founding of our chapter and the creation of the Center for Multicultural and Community Affairs (CMCA), and all of the allies that made these milestones possible. We hope that this archive will be a living, breathing document that continues to evolve alongside the institution. I am also proud of our partnership with the Apothecary, Sinai’s student-run creative arts magazine, on a special issue dedicated to uplifting Black creative expression and providing a space for healing through art. In spite of all of the really important conversations I have had since the events of this past summer, I sometimes feel like words fail me, and I hope that this issue serves as a means of expression and community. Above all, I am really thankful for the dedication and friendship of our Board and of the student and faculty allies who made this time a little less lonely.
The demands of working towards equity within Mount Sinai have been both extremely taxing yet overwhelmingly inspiring. Although I had not imagined being a part of implementing anti-racism initiatives as a facet of my medical school trajectory, it has significantly enhanced my experience by enriching my ability to think critically about tough issues, reinforcing my sense of purpose, and strengthening my capacity for problem solving. Some days are heavy, but I am sustained by the resilience of those who came before us, the fortitude of my colleagues, and the support that has been given to SNMA. While the road to truly achieving equity is long and sometimes tortuous, I am most proud of the collaborative spirit between leadership, faculty, staff, and students that have allowed the voices of Black students to be amplified and for our perspectives to be validated. It is SNMA’s hope that this continues to be the narrative, that we never allow this fire to be extinguished, and that Mount Sinai can position itself as a beacon of transformational change in addressing the systemic oppressions that exist within academic medicine.
Sewit Bereket, Jeffrey Okewunmi, and Makda Getachew Zewde
Overall, we have been heartened to see such an enthusiastic and supportive response from leadership throughout the hospital system on ways to bolster an anti-racist community at Mount Sinai. Regarding efforts to improve the medical student curriculum, we’ve begun to make progress on actualizing initiatives related to increasing diversity throughout our learning spheres. Specifically in the areas of student clinical encounters, basic science lectures, and research experiences, we look forward to seeing these efforts move forward. As trainees, it has been both rewarding and empowering to be able to contribute to the design of a curriculum that is inclusive, diverse, and representative of the community in which we live and learn. While we feel that it is our obligation to continue to push for these improvements, we acknowledge the disproportionate burden that we as Black students bear and we eagerly look forward to the day where future underrepresented students are relieved of this kind of work. Although the work at times was painful, the experience on this board has produced strong bonds of friendship, invigorated a drive for equity, and helped develop leadership and communication skills that will undoubtedly serve us, and our patients, in the future.
Last thought from Jeffrey Okewunmi:
Black women have been stunting on all the Black men who consistently fail to show up.
If you are interested in learning about the actions that the Dean’s Office and Medical Education have taken since the SNMA open letter addressing anti-blackness and racism at Mount Sinai and the broader medical community, check out this blog post.