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UI students, professors stage Die-In

BY MITCH MCANDREW | DECEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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Mirroring a national wave of demonstrations, University of Iowa medical students and professors staged a “die-in” on the Carver College of Medicine campus Thursday afternoon, which participants say was a move to help shed light on examples of current racism in medicine throughout the country.

The “White Coats for Black Lives” die-in was part of a national movement sparked by the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, who was killed after being locked in a chokehold by a white New York police officer earlier this year.

Garner was pronounced dead on July 17. A grand jury decided not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in Garner’s death on Dec. 3.

The peaceful demonstration involved around 60 participants and included protest signs on the ground.

With their faces to the sky, demonstrators lay on the ground in total silence for 11 minutes. Identical protests have taken place at medical schools across the country, including Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Minnesota, to name a few.

“The 11 minutes of silence is symbolic of the 11 times that [Garner] said ‘I can’t breathe’ before he passed,” said Jordan Harbaugh-Williams, a first-year UI medical student and co-organizer of the die-in.

The protest aimed to shed light on the issue of discrepancies in health care caused by race, many involved told The Daily Iowan.

First-year medical student Corbin Weaver, a co-organizer of the event, said there is systematic racism inherent in the health-care system that endangers lives.

“If two patients, white and African-American, came into the ER with identical injuries, studies have shown that the African-American patient will usually receive substandard care in comparison with the white patient,” Harbaugh-Williams said.

On average, African-Americans have shorter life expectancy and poorer health because of inadequate health-care coverage, he said.

These discrepancies are highlighted in the Carver College of Medicine’s Medicine and Society class, which several die-in participants cited as influential on their actions.

The class discusses the sociobehavioral determinants of health and how cultural factors can create unconscious bias, said UI Professor Kristi Ferguson, the strand director for the class.

“It’s important to learn how a patient’s cultural belief and background influence their decisions on health care,” she said.

She also noted this is an important aspect of medical care, as the backgrounds of patients are becoming increasingly variable.

“We can’t live in a bubble because we must be advocates for our patients,” said Clinical Associate Professor Pamela Trapane, who lectures for the Medicine and Society class.

Harbaugh-Williams and Weaver drew inspiration for the event from a Facebook page depicting the national die-in movement. While a national event was held Wednesday, Harbaugh-Williams said, organizers decided to wait until Thursday to finish up last-minute preparations.

“It makes for a hopeful end of the day, because we know that this issue is being recognized,” Weaver said.

Engaging the issue and educating the public on its implications are integral steps to combating the problem, she said.

“As health-care providers, we need to be aware that this is going on,” she said.

Overall, demonstrators said they felt racism in health care reflects the country as a whole.

“I like to think of the United States as a forward-thinking country, but we have a lot of work to do,” Trapane said.


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