June 2, 2020
Dear College of Medicine community,
Yesterday, I co-authored a message that was distributed to the UF Health system from our senior vice president for health affairs. I also note and truly applaud impassioned emails from James Davis and Michelot Michel, president and academic chairs of the College of Medicine classes of 2022 and 2023, respectively, as well as a powerful message from David Skorton, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, and David Acosta, M.D., chief diversity and inclusion officer of the AAMC. This period of time in our country has become more extraordinary than we could have imagined. On the heels of COVID-19 disproportionally affecting minority communities, we have more blatant evidence of the endemic problems of racism our country has faced for generations. I am heartbroken by recent images of the latest heinous act of deadly force against a black American. What we are experiencing now as a result is the culmination of a long history of unspeakable injustices and tragedies — many of which would not have made the light of day without our ubiquitous personal cameras and social media platforms. It drives us to tears as we watch, horrified and stunned that such acts can be possible today in the United States.
Taking this all in with the other recent images of violations of human rights — with oftentimes deadly results — has in truth created periods of despondency. I too have experienced the hood of a police car decades ago as a teen for driving the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. Seeing these images is enough to make me physically hurt. My daughters often remind me that, as a black man I too fall into the depths of this vulnerable space for which there are no boundaries, even when I think that the work I do somehow protects me. I have no way of defining the emotion. In my sadness, it is constricting and oppressive.
I have come to recognize how this affects all of us — black, white or any other ethnicity or color of skin we represent. We have entered a time where conversations between and among our students, faculty, staff and patients are ones that must acknowledge our differences, the pain we feel, the challenges we face and how our personal experiences have shaped us. To our students especially, we hear you and I feel the pain and discouragement and understand the uncertainty, but we must encourage this dialogue and engagement with each other and in our community.
Last fall, I attended a meeting of the AAMC and witnessed one of the most powerful and moving keynote presentations in recent memory. Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice activist and author, spoke about the four steps to change the world: get proximity, change the narrative, stay hopeful and be willing to do uncomfortable things. As we grapple with the tide of divisiveness across our country and within our communities, we must stand together — not just in hope, but also with an intentionality to change the narrative of endemic racism. In this time of COVID-19, the term social distancing adds a connotation antithetical to what we should truly be embracing, which is our social connectedness. Indeed, in highlighting the importance of being proximate, Stevenson says “Change is impossible when working at a distance.”
Let’s find time to connect with each other and to share our perspectives, our challenges and yes, our pain. We can learn from each other, learn from our patients and our community and perhaps begin to understand how we can truly effect important change in society. In the coming weeks, the College of Medicine’s Office for Diversity and Health Equity will develop ways to help us continue to engage each other, especially those most vulnerable in our midst.
Together, we must and will stand to face down racism and endemic prejudices and inequity in society.
Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H.
UF College of Medicine