Transcript of My Talk to Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps Team Leads - July 24, 2020

I'm just gonna focus on on the School of Public Health. My--BUSPH because that's ... That's my home. That's where I work. And you know, that's where I do, everything I do is out of BUSPH.

So in response to the recent police shootings that have gotten, you know, tremendous media attention and notice I say recent because it's not that there's just this problem; it didn't begin in 2020. It's just that it's getting more media attention, but at any rate because of this media attention, you know, this school has taken some actions. So we've had some discussion forums, we've had in our department, you know, we're, doing self reflection or something like that. And, um, we might have a retreat to talk about this. And, you know, and that's all great. I'm not, I'm not saying that that's a bad thing.

But, but it is a bad thing if it distracts our minds away from racist policies that we're instituting at the very same time that we're claiming to be interested in trying to promote racial justice. And that's why I'm very reluctant to participate in a lot of these forums. Because to me, it's hypocritical to on the one hand, say, you know, we're going to do everything we can to try to change these racist attitudes, even in our own school, but at the same time to be implementing policies that are the exact kind of policies that have created racial inequalities.

So what am I talking about, what I'm specifically talking about with regards to the School of Public Health is its decision in the late spring to hold hybrid classes this semester. They made that decision in April of 2020 okay.

Hybrid classes mean a separate system of education for two classes of people: People who can afford to come to class. And people who can't. All right. And I think about it. Who are the people who are going to be able to come to class? So what do you need for you to be to be able to feel safe and comfortable going to class, right? So you need two things.

Number one.You need to be in good health, especially good respiratory health. You can't have asthma in particular. Right. You can't have diabetes. That's another risk factor. And hypertension.

So the three major risk factors that you you can't have in order to be in this special group that can have in person classes are asthma , hypertension, diabetes, okay. Who has those three conditions, what populations do we know have those three conditions? Well disproportionately people who are Black have much higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. A lot of the asthma has to do with residential segregation and the quality of housing, the biggest factor is exposure to things like dust mites, um, which is 100% correlated with housing quality.

Right, so people who are grow up in certain environments, especially racially segregated environments are much more prone to have asthma. So this is a racist policy. It doesn't jump out at you as being a racist policy because it doesn't mention race, right. It doesn't say anything about okay you know it doesn't say, you know, white students. This isn't like the old South with Jim Crow. It doesn't say White students will be able to come to class and Black students will you know be joining us by computer and it doesn't say, you know, that wealthy students or students who have a higher socioeconomic status will be in class because what's the second thing you need?

Well, ideally, not have to take public transportation, right, and who doesn't need to take public transportation? Well, either people who can afford to live in the South End so you can walk, right, or people who have their own cars. Especially, right. So those are the two main ways that you can avoid having to take public transportation. So again, it's, there's a class issue there, right, it's a particular class of people who are more likely.

And then, of course, the third group of people who are unlikely to come to class or not to want to come to class or can't come to class are people who have, they're taking care of relatives with these same disorders. They have people with delicate health situations, they have people living in the household. Um, they have older people living in the household. And again, this is going to break down on racial and class lines.

So, this is a racist policy, right, because we're basically saying that we're going to, um, because we're afraid of losing money, we are going to create a two tiered system of education. One for the haves and one for the have nots. And if you're lucky enough not to have medical conditions then you'll be able to come to school sitting, you know, being at the classes in person and have in person instruction. But if you're unfortunate enough to have some sort of medical condition that puts you at higher risk then "Sorry, you're gonna, you know, join us from home." No problem. Um, it's not a fair system and it's a racist policy.

And what makes it even worse is that there's no justification for it. I mean, even if there were a justification for it, I would say it's still wrong. But what makes it even more egregious is the fact that there's no justification for it. Right. The justification. When I say justification. I mean, no legitimate justification right; there's a justification - the justification is we don't want to lose money.

Um, and that's fine, right, the school. Let's just give the school, the benefit of the doubt and say that had they announced that they were going to be having internet classes only back in June, they would have lost a certain percentage of people if students would defer or go to a different school, let's just say that were true, right, how many students would they lose. I can't think. I can't think it would be more than 10% right so that's 40 students at $60,000. Something like that. Right. So we're talking about a quarter of a million dollars, right.

So basically what the school is saying through this policy - not intentionally obviously - but what they're saying is that having racial justice in our classroom is not worth paying $250,000 for, that's what they're saying, they're putting a price tag on racial justice so it makes us hypocritical right because on the one hand we're going out there and saying, "Hey, this is a school that prides itself on social justice. This is what we do. This is our theme. This is what makes us special. This is what makes us different from other schools." Except if it costs us more than $250,000. Then forget about that, we forget the racial justice, nevermind. Right. That's essentially what we're saying.

And a couple of other things make this a really problematic policy. Second thing that makes it problematic is that it was announced way back in in late April before we had any, any idea what was going to happen with the pandemic. Right. How can you announce a policy before you even know what the pandemic is going to look like? The pandemic could be raging, right now it is actually right, but we're stuck with this policy, right? That's not public health.

This is not the way you do public health. What bothers me about this policy is not just that I think there's racial injustice. It's that it sets a bad example for our students because it teaches them the exact opposite of how we should be doing public health, right. You don't do public health in this kind of emergency situation by setting a policy without having the knowledge to make that policy. Public health is about evidence-based decision making. Right?

In some ways, this is worse than what the Republican governors did. And I'm not, I'm not condoning them or lessening what they did, because what they did is costing tens of thousands of lives, but in a way it's worse because what the Republican governors did is they said right now things are looking good. So we're opening, right? What the school said is even worse. It wasn't "We think things are going to be good in the fall. So we're going to open ." It was "We're deciding right now that we're having hybrid education, no matter what." Right, so without even knowing that things would be good in the fall, which we still know we're still a month away, right, but yet we're committed, we've committed to this decision of having students in the classroom. And you know what that means.

That means having employees and staff in the classrooms. And having teachers in the classrooms. It doesn't mean just students. I don't know. I mean, I suppose there are some student led seminars, but for the most part, the last time that I looked pretty much all the public health classes are taught by faculty members, not by students. And pretty much all of the classrooms are cleaned by maintenance workers, not by students and pretty much all of the information technology equipment has to be maintained by employees, staff not students.

So by making a commitment to have students in the classroom or to have the option that students can be in the classroom, the school is also committing to having staff and faculty in the classroom and you know that breaks down along racial lines as well and and class lines as well, because who are the racial groups and classes that are most likely to be serving in the maintenance positions. Right. It's going to break down the same way.

So those people can't work from everywhere. You know, there's no WFA program for maintenance workers. Yeah, so students can choose, but the maintenance workers can't choose if they want to keep their jobs. They have to put their families at risk. You know that's not fair. That's not an antiracist policy.

And on top of all of this, on top of all of this, what's the benefit that we're gaining, right? How does the hybrid is it any better than just teaching online? In fact, it's worse, right. And I mean, I'm telling you this as a teacher and as somebody who prides myself on teaching's my number one love in life, it's the number one thing that I care about and have cared about throughout my career is teaching and teaching quality.

And I can tell you that I cannot teach with a hybrid system. I just can't do it because it's inferior in many, many ways. Um, first of all, you're going to have students sitting there in fixed seats wearing masks, unable to move. You're not going to be able to have group exercises. I love to use group activities, right, in pretty much every class, we do some sort of group activity where students get together. They work together. Right. So we would bring the tables together. We're not going to be able to do that with a hybrid system, you're stuck six feet apart, you can't. They know I like to teach in a circle. Or a semi circle right you can't do that. Right, because everyone has to be six feet apart. But you can do all those things online. You can have breakout rooms every class session if you wish.

I actually did the calculations using geometry. I remembered my geometry on how to calculate the circumference of the circle and I figured out how big the room would have to be in order to have six feet apart. And it turns out that none of the classrooms in the instructional building meet those requirements to have enough for for that kind of social distancing anyway.

It also creates two separate classes. And I think that people are going to get a sense of, you know, well, I'm in this class. And I'm not in the other class. It splits the class and destroys the cohesiveness that I am trying to create.

It also leads to ridiculous logistics. Like, what happens if I'm not going to be there one night? Do I trade my seat with somebody else? And then the school is even talking about trading seats. That you can have, you know, so I can just imagine. Imagine students, you know, negotiating; somebody could just, you know, sign up for their seat for all their classes and then go and sell them. Can you imagine in here, walking to class. Hey I'm scalping my seat, 10 bucks for a seat out of the path of the air flow. Discount. Just one dollar for my seat. Unfortunately, it's in the air flow, but that's why the discount.

And it's ridiculous. The whole thing is ridiculous. It makes no didactic sense, there's no advantage to hybrid teaching as opposed to, you know, just doing it on the Internet.

And be aware. I'm speaking specifically about the School of Public Health. I'm not talking about undergraduate education. I'm not talking about high schools or elementary schools. They have different factors at play. And, you know, undergraduate experience is a residential experience, by definition, there are reasons why an undergraduate institution might do things differently. You know, I still have issues with that but that's neither here nor there. That's, you know, I'm not. I work at the School of Public Health. So my comments are related to what we're doing.

We're in graduate school. We're not a residential program, you know. Yes, in-person teaching is better, but hybrid teaching is not better than internet teaching.

So this whole thing that's being done, which I believe is, you know, a racist policy and just has all kinds of implications that go against public health principles, is basically being done to save $60,000 for about, you know, maybe 40 students. And that's the real justification. And so that is troubling.

And the reason why it's so troubling is because the entire premise behind everything I've ever done in my career is that corporations should not put money above health. And if you take that away from me, I have nothing left to stand on. Nothing, my entire career goes up in smoke, so to speak, right. I have nothing to stand on. Because that's that has been my moral standing ground, that's been my soapbox right, that's been my pedestal.

For my entire career, the pedestal is that in public health, we put the health of the community first and money second, so I can go to the tobacco industry and I can say yes, you're going to lose money but that's not my priority, my priority is health. I can go to the alcohol industry and say that. I can go to the food industry. I can go to the chemical industry which I've been doing, right.

But now what the school is doing with this policy is they're basically saying, well, "Everybody else - corporations and everything like that, you know, you have to put health above money. But when we're in financial trouble, we are different. We're special. We don't have to. We can put money first because we're working towards a good goal, right. And I don't buy that argument, and I will not buy that argument.

And so this is why I'm, this is why I think we really need to think about when we talk about racial justice. I think we just have to get beyond this idea that let's just all have, you know, little group workshops or something and talk about it.

Yeah, great. That's wonderful. But that you know we should have done that and, you know, that was good for you know 140 years ago that would have been good in the late 1800s, to have those groups right.

That's not what we need now. People are dying. What we need now is antiracist policies and we can't accomplish those if we are instituting those very policies at the same time that we're talking about hey, let's all talk about how to be antiracist individuals. What we really need, more than anything, is for people to be willing to speak out against this policy which sacrifices public health principles, social justice principles, racial justice principles, all for purely financial reasons.


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