In its first school year — 2020-2021 — schools are in session during the pandemic, but students, staff and staff are also being met with intense nationwide debate about anti-Black racism and the structural and systemic racism others face The impact of dialogue. This context shapes the curriculum and calls for dramatic changes in teaching, learning and living.
“We have learned some important lessons during the pandemic. As the dean of a new school of public health, it has become all too clear that if we are serious about dismantling the systems and structures that promote racism, the conversation about racism has to be the foundation of what we do in this new school and, as a result, promote less than ideal health outcomes across society,” Anderson said.
An early component was inviting all employees to a 24-hour racial resilience workshop series that helped participants recognize the systems that normalize racism and explore the role of individuals in perpetuating structural racism, rich in Talk about it compassionately and make sustainable changes to build a harmonious foundation for a school.
Systemic racism seems to be hitting the headlines every day. Over the course of five months in 2020, five black people were killed in five separate incidents: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Sadly, more followed, including rising violence against people of Asian descent.
To create a safe space for difficult conversations, compassionate action circles were introduced.
“We are all affected by these events. They affect our well-being, our productivity, and our sense of safety and belonging,” said Martha Anderson, JD, MD, director of the Dean’s Office.
“Compassionate action circles are a way to create places that support health. We discussed steps to take when you are in a system that is designed to be oppressive to some people. What we can do to free everyone oppression in the environment?”
Kyle Choi, program manager of informatics at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, said the forum, held in October 2021, fostered the open dialogue needed to build community awareness.
“The Compassionate Action Circle was held at a time when many of our staff saw only UC San Diego’s reactionary reaction to current events related to JEDI,” Choi said. “The forum is seen as more of a deliberate and proactive effort.”
The Compassionate Action Circle adds a unique dimension to the school that fosters compassion in academic spaces, said Dr. Sonia Jain, interim associate dean for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Our students were affected, too. After George Floyd, I set aside what I was going to teach that day and had a conversation, a healing,” Jain said. “We need a place to discuss the fundamental question of how it affects JEDI principles across the campus, whether you are a student, a faculty member or a staff member.”
“Hopefully Compassionate Action Circle and programs like it become part of the community so our school has a safe place to communicate as unfortunate events continue to happen.”