A two-day series of speakers and panel discussions focused the Washington University community on critical issues related to race, ethnicity and inclusivity in February, an event that School of Medicine Dean Larry J. Shapiro, MD, called “an important step in being better able to share our thoughts and ideas, to celebrate yet bridge our differences, and to make our university, and St. Louis, better for everyone.”
Led by university scholars, students and thought leaders, ‘Race & Ethnicity: A Day of Discovery and Dialogue’ addressed topics including the social construction of race, the impact of race on everyday life, and the intersectionality of stereotypes related to race, ethnicity and other identities.
The event opened on the Medical Campus February 5 with remarks from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, PhD, who stressed the conference’s goal of both individual and institutional growth.
Shapiro continued the evening’s conversation, noting that issues of race are particularly important on the Medical Campus, where researchers and physicians are committed to correcting health disparities, and where thousands of people – including students, university and hospital employees, patients and visitors – come together each day.
“It’s our job to work together to better understand one another’s perspectives,” Shapiro said, “and to really create here an environment of inclusiveness, where everybody’s opinions and viewpoints and backgrounds are valued.”
Before introducing the keynote speaker, Shapiro encouraged attendees to listen to the evening’s reflections “with a kind and empathetic ear.” “I want to thank you for taking your time to be here this evening and to participate in this dialogue,” he added. “I value your open minds as we explore how race and ethnicity affect each of us, and what we can do to make this a better and more inclusive place now and in the future.”
Special guest Gerald Early, PhD, followed Shapiro’s welcome with “Tales to Astonish: Why Race Matters and Why It Shouldn’t.” Nationally recognized as a leader on issues of race and American culture, Early is a professor of English and director of the African American Studies program at Washington University.
Exploring the gaps between black and white, Dr. Early’s address contextualized social understandings of race in the United States, tracing a racial caste system from the bondages of slavery into cultural beliefs and systems that persist today. In America, Early explained, “The concept of race was compelling because it seemed so vividly to explain the difference that human difference makes. And it also justified a world where whites ruled blacks.”
Following Early’s address, Department of Medicine chair Victoria Fraser, MD, led a panel discussion and open forum on matters of race. Fraser is also the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine. The panelists were:
- Gerald Early, PhD, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Professor of English, and Director, African and African-American Studies; all in Arts & Sciences
- Richard Wilson, PhD, Professor of Genetics and Professor of Molecular Microbiology, School of Medicine; Research Member, Siteman Cancer Center; and Director, The Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Genome Institute
- Cynthia Rogers, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry
- Adrienne Davis, JD, Vice Provost and William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, School of Law
- Bob Hansman, BFA, Associate Professor of Architecture; Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
The conversations continued the following day on the Washington University Danforth Campus where faculty and scholars from across the university, including the School of Medicine, engaged in four additional sessions addressing race and ethnicity. An evening performance of “The Six” by Black Anthology at the Edison Theatre concluded the symposium, though most participants and university leadership agreed that the dialogue will continue.
Session 1 Photos: “Why Race Matters and Why It Shouldn’t”
Snapshots from the symposium’s opening event at the Medical Campus are available below (click photos to enlarge). Additional videos, photos and illustrations of all sessions are available on the WashU Voices website.