A Place for Anti-Racism in Crisis Response

During the Special Edition Chats for Change on Tuesday, April 21, seventeen staff, students and faculty from across the health system and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (shout out to Mount Sinai Queens and the Corporate Offices) began to brainstorm the strategies, actions, and practices that challenge and counter racism, inequalities, prejudices, and discrimination based on race during this public health crisis.

It started with a check-in.

Like most Chats for Change, we kicked things off by checking in and finding out why folks have joined the session. The top four reasons were justice, change, action and education.

We got on the same page.

To get on the same page, the co-hosts provided a frame or collective understanding of an anti-racist crisis response. It’s hard to engage in a productive dialogue when there are so many interpretations and definitions. Here are the definitions we used (these aren’t the “right” definitions, they are what we used for this session and may change over time):

Crisis response defined: Crisis Response refers to all the advance planning and actions taken to address natural and man-made disasters, crises, critical incidents, and tragic events. Ideally, crisis management practices are engaged before, during and after a crisis.

Anti-racism defined: Anti-racism is the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism.

Racial equity defined: Racial equity is a component of anti-racism. It is the condition that would be achieved if one’s racial identity no longer predicted how one fares.

Identified what we are witnessing and experiencing now.

In order to identify the strategies, actions or practices that counter racism during this crisis, we first examined what is happening now. Here are two of our insights that either counter or perpetuate systemic and individual racism during this crisis:

  • “Wearing a face covering (I understand and support the reason and importance but it does perpetuate racism)…not equally safe for all to do because they may be targets of racism/suspicion.”
  • “Focusing on those who are most in need and equity instead of being fair (counter)”
Dreamt what could be and the challenges to implement.

We spent most of the time in small break out rooms brainstorming an ideal anti-racist crisis response. What would it look like? Who are the people and/or groups involved? What are the mindsets, strategies, actions and/or practices? What would happen before, during and after the crisis? What challenges or roadblocks might you encounter if you implemented your ideal anti-racist crisis response?

These are some of the actions, strategies and practices that we dreamt of:

  • “Centering equity in crisis decision-making, response and recovery.”
  • “Anti-racist response doesn’t try to get things back to normal; it’s about building a better system for next time.”
  • “Practices to tap into the heart, not just the mind. This isn’t an intellectual exercise.”

Here are some of the identified challenges:

  • Resistance
  • Power hoarding
  • Transparency: Who makes the decisions? Who is at the table? Who holds those in power accountable?
Next steps.

This Chats for Change was just the initial brainstorming session. A smaller group of students, staff, and faculty are continuing the work to formally develop a framework that could be shared more broadly within the Mount Sinai community and with other medical schools and teaching health systems. If you want to get more involved, please reach out to Leona Hess. Stay tuned for updates as we dream into and actualize an anti-racist crisis response.

In the meantime, check out the upcoming Chats for Change schedule.

Special thanks to everyone who contributed to this body of work and shared their stories.

About the Author

This post was written by Leona Hess, PhD, Director of Strategy and Equity Education Programs.

Change Management Meets the Racism and Bias Initiative | An Introduction to the Methodology from Dr. Leona Hess

Change Management Meets the Racism and Bias Initiative | An Introduction to the Methodology from Dr. Leona Hess

A New York-native, Dr. Hess is a systems thinker and transformational change strategist. Joining Med Ed in October of last year, her primary role is to develop and apply a Change Management methodology to the Racism and Bias Initiative (RBI). By doing so she will build our collective capacity to effectively lead and implement transformational change towards our future state of providing health care and medical education that is free of racism and bias. Over the past few months she has worked with key stakeholders to begin to build out a more formal Change Management strategy that is bold and collaborative.

We caught up with Dr. Hess to find out about what Change Management is and how it will be applied to the RBI.  (more…)