A Message from Creighton University School of Medicine

A Message from Creighton University School of Medicine

Many of us are experiencing a lot of anger, frustration and impatience at what has been happening in our country and our cities, Omaha and Phoenix, for many different reasons—the deaths of African Americans at the hands of the police, some of the actions of protestors, and the police and governmental response to those protests. It will not help for us to abstractly approach this in a way that distances us from what is at stake.

To that end, I have invited Ronn Johnson, PhD, ABPP, associate dean for diversity and inclusion for the School of Medicine, to provide a starting point for reflection and conversation. We remember that Jesuit education is supposed to expose us all—not just students—to the gritty reality of this world so that we can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively. The events of these past days have brought us face to face with a complicated and painful part of the gritty reality of this world. Let us stay faithful to grappling with it.

Robert “Bo” Dunlay, MD’81, MBA
Dean, Creighton University School of Medicine

To the family and friends of the Creighton University School of Medicine,

For some of us, the death of George Floyd is yet another link in a chain that has bound people of color in this country from the very beginning. For others, even for those who want to understand, it can be difficult to fully appreciate what it feels like for a parent who fears nothing can be done to protect their child from the inequities and violence that is so much of the story of this nation. Do you want to know what this is like for people of color, yet again today? Then I invite you to walk through this with me so that we might have a place from which to begin a conversation.

You have aspirations, dreams and plans; you are on a successful life course, and the U.S. Constitution claims that you have the right to pursue happiness. There’s one problem: you are Black. You are always conscious of your Blackness. No matter how well you communicate, how strong your athletic prowess, how much a devoted person of faith you become, or how many impressive academic credentials you work hard to accumulate, you’re still Black. In case you forget that you are Black, someone or something will quickly remind you of that undeniable fact. Black matters, and it always will.

Murders of those such as Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery are those reminders that being Black in the United States is a fact that has an impact on the life of a Black person, regardless of the beliefs a person has or the actions a person takes.

Facts of race and racism are a part of our society and its institutions, including the police. While progress has been made in some areas to address systematic racism, continued acts such as we have seen this week testify that work remains to be done—work that we all must do to educate ourselves about the ways in which race affects individual actions and social institutions, and work to find ways to address the problems that stem from racial injustice and social inequity.

This is an issue that all of us in medicine and health care experience, on a daily basis. In addition to disparities in the ways in which Blacks are treated by law enforcement; or disparities of access to social or economic opportunities; or disparities in access to education—race is one of the great health care disparities. We have seen that in the pandemic itself. In Minnesota, where George Floyd was murdered, Blacks represent 7% of the population but 22% of the cases of COVID-19. The racial disparities are even worse in other states. Blacks are more likely to suffer from chronic disease that places them at risk from the virus; are more likely to serve in jobs that place them at risk of infection; and have poorer access to health care treatment.

As health care professionals and students, many of us are safe in our homes, but we are collectively traumatized and worried over these racially charged incidents. Town hall meetings about events like this are reflexively offered as an intervention for calming down frayed nerves and restoring a thin veneer of racial normalcy. Yet, there can be a malignant form of passive tolerance, self-righteous indifference and racial complacency that reinforces the status quo of policing in diverse communities.

Most informed physicians, nurses and other health care professionals understand that racism is an insidious social determinant that leads to health disparities. Racism is a dehumanizing experience that is perpetuated across generations. I wish I had an evidenced-based approach to share with you on how to become better engaged in a way that would eradicate racism in all institutions. Unfortunately, I don’t. Still, for starters, look at yourself in the mirror and answer the question out loud, what have I done personally to combat racism? And, please note, that what I say about racism and the treatment of Blacks has characterized treatment of other groups as well—from Native Americans since the beginning of the history of this country, to other racial or ethnic or religious groups: Japanese, Asian Americans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and also women—anyone identified as Other.

 Each of us must become motivated to actively navigate through the imperfect psychosocial storm caused by racism. Convert your worries into actions that inform you about the legacy of racism in this country and the circumstances that allow it to remain ingrained within the fiber of many of our institutions, including medicine and education.

As a Black person, there is no need to step into my shoes; you don’t have to wear my skin, see what I see, hear what I hear, feel what I feel in order to know who I am, what I am or why I am.

 When it comes to racism as a person of faith, I will share a prayer that I modified from an old gospel song. Abba, open our eyes that we may see. To follow Thee, oh Lord. Grant us Thy lovin’ peace. And let all dissension cease. Let our faith each day increase. Abba, You have given us so much. And yet with all that You have provided us, we still fight, hurt and kill each other. Abba, look upon us with compassion, and please heal us and smile out on us because we are helpless. Abba, please open our eyes. Amen.

Yours sincerely,

Ronn Johnson, PhD, ABPP
Professor of Psychiatry
Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion
Creighton University School of Medicine

To facilitate this process, the Creighton University School of Medicine hosted “The George Floyd Killing by Police: A Creighton Medical School Response,” by video conference June 4, featuring presentations and discussion by faculty, students, residents and fellows.