The University’s Law and Medical Schools hosted a two-day conference starting Thursday focusing on the impact of discrimination in public health, entitled “Healing Hate: A Public Health Perspective on Civil Rights in America.”
The event facilitated conversation between scholars, clinicians, policymakers and community leaders to find ways to reduce and treat violence, hate speech, crime, disease and injury due to racism through a public health perspective.
According to Law School Dean Risa Goluboff, the goal was to use a multidisciplinary approach to address the prevalent health and racial disparities in the United States.
“I’m particularly excited about the way this conference brings together scholars and community leaders from many different disciplines, organizations, and backgrounds to work together to find concrete solutions to what sometimes seem like intractable problems,” Goluboff said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “I look forward to seeing the ideas the conference participants come up with and the good that they will do in the world.”
Conference organizer and Law Prof. Dayna Bowen Matthew, who also serves as the director of The Equity Center, noted that this conference is an experiment for the University, as it is the first time The Equity Center has brought together social activists from all different disciplines in this way.
“I’ve been studying inequality in health and not seen enough change,” Matthew said. “So the conference, I hope, will bring many more tools and voices to the work of removing and eradicating inequality.”
The first day of the conference focused on civil rights advocacy and health equity and took place at the Caplin Pavilion in the University’s School of Law. The day consisted of a keynote speaker, multiple panels, a workshop and lunch and dinner events for the registered guests.
Angela P. Harris, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, served at the keynote speaker for the first day of the conference. For the first time at an academic institution, Harris presented her work on medical civil rights, which concern issues of equity in the healthcare system.
“The question is what is the source of these population based health disparities?” Harris asked. “The piece of the puzzle that I want to identify right now is the biological impact of social discrimination.”
According to Harris, discrimination is embedded in the health system itself — for example, black Americans and systematically undertreated for pain compared to white patients. She noted that studies have shown that “your zip code has more of an impact on your life expectancy than your genetic code,” and there is not enough being done to solve this public health issue.
“It is only social movements that can change a culture,” Harris said. “Professional expertise, no matter how effective the research is, can never do that.”
According to Matthew, the event attendees consisted of University students, faculty from the University and around the country, and community members.
Meredith Kilburn, a first-year Law student and a student of Matthew, chose to attend the conference because of her interest in civil rights law.
“[From this conference] I hope to learn more,” Kilburn said. “I know there are large health disparities that are economically and racially driven, but I’m excited to hear about potential solutions and paths forward to a health system that is less discriminatory based on socioeconomic status.”
Matthew noted that her goals for the conference are also for the attendees to learn from each other and work together to make a difference. She hopes that everyone will leave as a “change maker” inspired to help the areas of injustice that they can.
“I hope that people get a spark, a fire lit under them to go out and fight injustice and inequality,” Matthew said.
The conference is sponsored by the Center for Health Policy, ChangeLab Solutions, University’s Equity Center, Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, W. Montague Cobb NMA Health Institute, as well as the University’s Schools of Nursing, Medicine and Law.
The second day of the conference — Friday — will similarly be centered around the health professions and civil rights policy and will be hosted at the Pinn Hall Conference Center Auditorium in the University’s School of Medicine. The three panel discussions will focus on guns, violence and mental health, maternal and infant mortality disparities, and school discipline disparities. The keynote speaker will be Vivian Pinn, founding director of Office of Research on Women’s Health at the NIH.
Both days of the conference are free and open to the public, but registration is required to attend.