Dept. of Surgery event focuses on medical racism and racist origins of American gynecology

Deirdre Cooper-Owens.

Historian Deirdre Cooper Owens, author of “Medical Bondage,” and community organizer India Walton will join medical students and faculty to explore these issues

Release Date: February 2, 2022

“It’s critically important for health care workers to understand the ways that African Americans have been used and misused within the medical industry over centuries. ”
Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD, The Charles & Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and author of “Medical Bondage"
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The University at Buffalo’s Department of Surgery continues its “Beyond the Knife” series focused on surgery’s role in fighting systemic racism with its second annual Anti-Racism and Health Equity event on Feb. 10.

Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD, The Charles & Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of “Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology,” will give the keynote lecture, “What History Reveals in Our Understanding of U.S. Medicine.”

The in-person event is free and open to the public; it takes place at 5 p.m. in Room 2220, the M&T Lecture Hall, in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, 955 Main St., Buffalo. It also will be live-streamed on Zoom. Registration for either in-person or virtual attendance is at this link.

Cooper Owens’ talk will be followed by a panel discussion with UB faculty, students and community members featuring India Walton, community organizer, co-founder of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust and former Buffalo mayoral candidate. A book signing and sale of Cooper Owens’ book “Medical Bondage” will take place afterward.

Cooper Owens brings an historical perspective to medicine that she says is critical to fully understanding the difficulties that African Americans experience today when they need to access health care. “It’s critically important for health care workers to understand the ways that African Americans have been used and misused within the medical industry over centuries,” she says. “The distrust African Americans have voiced about medical workers is rooted in the exploitation and racism that stems from the era of U.S. slavery.

“Providing historical context for so many of the issues related to the birthing crisis affecting Black birthing people and the legacy of medical racism that include harmful ideas about supposed biological differences between Black and white people is critical for medical professionals,” she says.

That context is an integral part of medical education at the Jacobs School, says Allison Brashear, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, who will give welcoming remarks. “The Department of Surgery’s anti-racism initiative is an example of the Jacobs School’s unwavering commitment to providing our students with the social and historical understanding they need in order to be the most effective physicians,” she says.

Mayowa Adebiyi, a member of the Jacobs School Class of 2024, will be on the panel following Cooper Owens’ talk. “‘Beyond the Knife’ is a necessary platform for this community,” she says. “These conversations ground us in the details, not only of our history, but of the obstacles currently facing the populations we serve.

“As medical students, we are reminded of the twin tasks before us: to build an inclusive and culturally humble workforce, and to heal communities that continue to suffer from health inequities and structural racism.”  

She adds that the perspectives of Cooper Owens and of Walton, who has been a health care worker in Buffalo, will be a source of inspiration for all who attend.

The Department of Surgery established the “Beyond the Knife” series following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. “This annual lectureship event represents an effort to educate ourselves and others by drawing attention to the tough issues and having the difficult conversations that are so badly needed,” says Steven Schwaitzberg, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery and president of UBMD Surgery. “We are excited to have Dr. Owens bring a historical perspective and help us understand how we got to where we are today and identify the deep roots of structural racism.

“Without a doubt, India Walton captured the hearts and minds of many Buffalonians this year,” he adds. “Her background in health care will add further perspective to this important conversation.”

In addition to the above, speakers on the panel include:

·       Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, professor of urban and regional planning in the School of Architecture and Planning at UB and director of the Center for Urban Studies.

·       Thomas J. Ward, Jr., PhD, assistant dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Farmingdale State College.

·       Michael Lamb, PhD, research assistant professor of surgery at UB, moderator.

·       Rita Hubbard-Robinson, JD, CEO at NeuWater & Associates LLC.

·       Vanessa M. Barnabei, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UB; associate dean for faculty affairs in the Jacobs School.

·       Beth Harvey, MD, surgery resident at UB.

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