OHSU leaders, faculty, staff and students gathered in the late afternoon rain outside Mackenzie Hall Tuesday, Oct. 4 to mark an institution-wide commitment to address gun violence as a public health issue.
“We all know why we are here,” OHSU President Joe Robertson, M.D., M.B.A., told the gathering of more than 100. “We are troubled by the increasing violence in our society and the way in which that violence has disproportionately impacted people of color. As an institution, OHSU has struggled a bit to finds its voice. As healers, we want to act, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with our mission and also respectful and inclusive of those who have been involved in this issue for much longer. Now I think we have the right man to help us find our voice.”
Dr. Robertson introduced Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., vice president for Diversity and Inclusion and a faculty member in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. In July, Dr. Robertson charged Dr. Gibbs with leading a series of community conversations to identify how OHSU – across its clinical, research and education missions – can best address gun violence as a public health issue. His directive was inspired by calls for action by students, staff and faculty.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the School of Public Health have now convened the Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue Advisory Committee to plan community forums to identify opportunities for OHSU and community partners to reduce gun violence and address the social and societal conditions that contribute to it. The advisory committee met for the first time at 9 a.m. on Oct. 4. The Stand Together vigil at 5 p.m. kicked off the work.
“Tonight we shift from a place where we were standing as individuals to a place where we stand in unity,” said Dr. Gibbs, who was joined at the event by the provost and the deans of all the schools. “There has been a great amount of work from many parts of the institution to help make this day possible. However, the harder work is ahead of us. But to get there we first had to stand and then step out onto the path together.”
The event was defined by personal reflections from three students – Kalisha Bonds, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Nursing; Brianna Ennis, M.D. ’19, and Alisha Berry, M.D. ’19 and a co-leader of Students for LGBTQ Health.
Ms. Ennis read a poem she wrote.
“Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner,
Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling,
Philando Castile, Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher,
I will stop here; You already know where I’m headed.
May the beautiful black men robbed of their freedom, their dignity, their hopes and dreams—
May they rest in peace.
I’m angry; I’m pained. This is an understatement—
It’s more like my cup runneth over with bitterness and rage.
But most of all I fear.
I fear for my dad, my brother, my future son. Any one of them could be next.
And I am not immune; I fear for myself too…
We are called today to stand together as healers,
to throw compassion at darkness and rise to the light,
and to practice what we preach.”
Alisha Moreland-Capuia led the crescendo and finale of the event.
Assistant professor of Psychiatry and executive director of the OHSU Avel Gordly Center for Healing, Dr. Moreland-Capuia completed her psychiatry residency and addiction psychiatry fellowship at OHSU. She is serving on the Gun Violence as a Public Health Issue Advisory Committee.
Dr. Moreland-Capuia called the participants to the moment, defined and underscored the importance of the work and then invited everyone to turn toward the Mackenzie Hall fountain and join hands.
As the rain clouds momentarily parted to reveal a sliver of blue sky, orange-, red- and yellow-colored lights illuminated the Mackenzie Hall fountain. The lights remained on all night as a beacon of the institution’s commitment.
After the vigil, Molly Rabinowitz, M.D. ‘18, stood with classmates sipping hot chocolate provided for the event. Ms. Rabinowitz is among a group of inter-professional students that began calling for OHSU to act in the midst of police shootings of unarmed black men starting in 2014 and signed on to a letter to the OHSU administration.
“Across our classes and our university, students didn’t feel that the administration was listening to our concerns about issues of institutional racism and social justice,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.
“Now we’re here. This vigil and the work that will follow is both exactly what we wanted and so much more than we expected. We finally feel heard, and that brings me so much hope.”
Follow the work at www.ohsu.edu/standtogether .
(all photos courtesy of OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)