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Racialized Medicine, Past and Present: Teaching and Research in the Spaces Between STEM and the Humanities (short-term, June 2021)

Published May 9, 2021

Organized by Suzanne Gottschang, Anthropology, and Kathleen Pierce, Art

Project Description

From the start, reporting on COVID-19 in the United States was steeped in racialized rhetoric. Early news articles on cases in the United States disproportionately featured images of Asian and Asian-American people. Poorly planned and communicated travel bans stoked xenophobia. And former President Trump’s perpetual framing of the virus as connected to China stoked racism and a wave of violence against Asians and Asian-Americans. The roots of this system, however, are both deep and rhizomatic in their spread. Racism, racialization, and xenophobia have found footholds in public health crises and responses of the past, and these processes have also made their way, via structural racism and other systems of power, into many of the ways we continue to describe and respond to these crises. Returning to COVID-19, from infographics and statistical data visualizations to news images and videos circulating on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram, the pandemic has made it imperative that we engage with myriad representations to understand what is going on in our communities and beyond. Many of us have had to learn not only the scientific information about the virus, as well as the vaccine, but also the complex historical, social, political, and economic realities that shape people’s experiences with and responses to both the virus and the vaccine. 

This moment seems like an opportune one, as we navigate this new terrain, to consider the spaces between science/public health and the humanities that can offer opportunities to expand how we see, interpret, and draw conclusions about our respective fields, particularly as we think about the intersection of race and medicine between past and present. 

We invite participants from STEM and the humanities/humanistic social sciences to join in a two-part conversation where we focus on how representations manifest long-standing assumptions and erase others. Our starting point for these discussions relies on work in the medical humanities that calls attention to histories and presents of racism and racialization in medicine and science, including the ways these processes intersect with gender, sexuality, ability, and class. In the course of the workshop we will first work together through several case studies to develop common ground. In the second meeting, we will begin to consider ways to continue this work through collaboratively developed resources to take into our teaching and research. This might include a curriculum tool that highlight faculty areas of expertise within college, developing readings lists, and/or collaboratively producing a blog post or open letter.

Project Fellows

  • Ranae Brodie, Biological Sciences, Mount Holyoke College
  • Suzanne Gottschang, Anthropology, Organizing Fellow
  • Jennifer Hamilton, American Studies, Amherst College
  • Susan Levin, Philosophy
  • Kathleen Pierce, Art, Organizing Fellow
  • Erica Tibbetts, Exercise and Sport Studies
  • Frazer Ward, Art
  • Sujane Wu, East Asian Languages and Cultures