CUIMC Honors MLK With Bold Conversations on Race

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the civil rights leader who contested our nation’s caste system and encouraged us to rise against racial injustice. In advance of the federal holiday, members of the medical school community attended “Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a virtual event.

Moderated by Robert Fullilove, EdD, professor of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, who worked in Dr. King’s office in 1964, the discussion on Jan. 13  was a reminder that King’s dream is still unrealized.

Fullilove encouraged attendees to consider how King used the notion of health as a marker of equality for all. Access for everyone to health care and the benefits of medical technology were already separating the United States from the rest of the world in the 1960s.

“We have made progress in the health sciences,” Fullilove said, “but there is more work to do.”

headshots of faculty members

Clockwise from top left: Hilda Hutcherson, Diego Jaramillo, Robert Fullilove, and Christine Rohde.

His colleagues at the panel discussion agreed and shared personal, stirring stories of enduring aggressions of all scales: cluelessness, unconscious bias, deliberate demeaning remarks, name calling, objectification, and sexual and physical harassment.

The conversation, as Fullilove remarked, was difficult as well as intellectually stimulating.

“What had I done to deserve this treatment?” Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics & gynecology at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, wondered time and again, feeling shocked, helpless, demoralized, afraid when she experienced racism. Her formidable academic pedigree and accomplishments were no match for pre-conceived notions. After listening to her peers, Hutcherson noted their common experiences despite representing different generations, genders, and races.

“It’s impactful to know you are not alone,” said Christine Rohde, MD, MPH, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery and professor of surgery at VP&S, the first Asian female plastic surgery chief in the United States. “Going to work with the added burden of stereotypes and negative expectations is exhausting.” She offered this advice: When you are junior, find a mentor, a sponsor, and an ally. When you are senior, be one.

The panelists offered this advice to anyone experiencing or witnessing injustice:

  • Be true to yourself; Don’t let others define you by a stereotype.
  • Protect your mental health.
  • Speak up for yourself and/or advocate for others.
  • Call out unconscious bias; let people know their words or actions are hurtful.
  • Respond with respect; it’s disarming.

“Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody,” said Diego Jaramillo, MD, MPH, professor of radiology at VP&S, quoting King. Jaramillo had never experienced people looking at him differently until he arrived in the United States at age 24.

“We have made great strides, but it has been extremely hard, and it shouldn’t be,” said Hutcherson.

“The quest for justice has no end,” said Jaramillo. “It’s an infinite journey.”


More information

This event was one of a quarterly series—"Bold Conversations on Race for Healing & Reshaping Our Medical Center Community”—open to the entire CUIMC community.