How often do you stop and evaluate what we, as University of Michigan students working to better the climate, are doing to create a space for marginalized communities, minority groups and people of color to share their truth? To an individual who fits within those categories, this isn’t a far-fetched question. Perhaps a better question would be: How often do your social identities pervade your thoughts or influence the work you do? Of these core identities, which ones affect you most often and which ones affect you least often?
For the sake of real-world application, let’s deconstruct these questions by using a nationwide issue: women’s health care. It’s truly ironic how women’s health care isn’t that at all, since women aren’t even the primary decision-makers. It’s more accurately described as the domain of elite policymakers, the majority of which do not hold an education rooted in public health or medicine yet make large-scale decisions for women about their bodies and their health. According to the American College of Healthcare Executives, less than 20 percent of executives in leadership at hospitals or public health systems are women. Paradoxically, this is a stark contrast to the 80 percent of mothers who are the primary health care decision-makers in their homes and for their families, as per U.S. Department of Labor data. One then wonders why men in higher places act entitled to controlling the health care policies set forth at the federal, state and local levels.
That being said, on the flip side, the Association of American Medical Colleges now report a female majority class profile and the percentage of female physicians is steadily on the rise as per a 2016 census study. It’s happening: Women are making cracks in the glass ceiling. However, the crux of the situation is that this is absolutely not the time for us to sit back and let this phase run its course as we, unfortunately, quite often have.
I am exhausted and disturbed to see the continual “short-term memory loss” that the greater majority of millennial Americans actively choose to subscribe to, directly following every important catastrophic event. Women and health care have become collateral damage in the process. For example, the abortion restrictions received a lot of heat in early 2019 and the passionate voices that took a stance have since then quieted or subsided entirely. Why is it that especially when the social justice issues at hand are centered upon marginalized communities or minority groups, the problem is discussed nonstop for, say, two weeks while all of us post and share stories of it on Snapchat and Instagram? And why, at the moment it stops being “trendy,” is it all of a sudden like nothing happened? The only individuals who continue to remember cases like Trayvon Martin are the families and the African-American community members that are affected by it.
I agree that there is a benefit to posting on your stories and spreading awareness, but I urge these posters to commit to educating themselves on the issue as a whole. Don’t post about the worsening environmental state of the Earth and then continue to use straws, print single-sided and waste water. Don’t post about female empowerment and then go talk negatively about the women in your own circle behind their backs. Don’t post about a global humanitarian crisis and then not take the initiative to seek out all other unbiased media and news articles. Remember when all your Instagram followers turned their Instagram profile pictures blue? Do you recall what that was for? It’s a sign of solidarity with the people of Sudan. But solidarity isn’t only applicable at certain points of the year. It’s a year-round effort, day in and day out, 24/7 until justice for all is achieved. This isn’t to say that you’re not allowed to switch out your profile picture, but don’t halt the educational process happening behind the scenes.
The reality is this: currently, progress in women’s health care is driven by women who are advocating for fellow women. LGBTQ+ individuals are primarily involved in the fight for LGBTQ+ pride. We need to do better. We need to show up for each other. When a social justice issue arises or a humanitarian crisis is taking place halfway across the globe, that is an opportunity for you to selflessly be involved and support those around you. The change we need will not result from women advocating for themselves. Instead, it will result from a shift in perception such that all health care professionals, of all genders, recognize and respond to inequalities and lack of diversity in leadership roles and senior positions. Please note that this does not require you to be in a position to “solve” the problem. Instead, pursue options in which you help to create a safe space for that community to discuss the problem at hand.
Recently, during an interview for the South Asian Awareness Network, a social justice organization at Michigan, I was asked to respond to the following question: “What does POC solidarity mean to you?” That’s when I started to see the University community in a more static state rather than a growth state. We’re lucky because POC solidarity is achievable here in Ann Arbor, where diverse communities and multicultural organizations exist and put on a wide variety of cultural events. There is potential that within the University community, we can bridge the gap between the privileges we hold and underserved communities in our backyards and internationally. We can do this simply by allowing the voices of those who deserve to be heard to take charge of their narrative.
Varna Kodoth can be reached at email@example.com.