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Black History Month 2016: Reflecting on the Impact of Race

This February, UC San Francisco commemorates Black History Month by spotlighting some of the experiences of African-American faculty, staff and students in our community.

We asked our participants three questions looking at how race has impacted their successful careers and how UCSF can be more inclusive. See the slideshow above with excerpts from the interviews, or read their full responses below.


Sheila Antrum, RN, MHSA, president of UCSF Medical Center

How has race affected your work?

Earlier in my career, the visual elements of race would sometimes prompt me to overcompensate to some degree in order to fit in because as an African-American woman, skin color is the first thing you see. I learned over the years to navigate towards positive people, adjust to negative environments and continue to take chances. I use my voice to educate and communicate, which is sometimes exhausting but absolutely necessary.

Who has been your role model or mentor?

Various people have mentored me throughout my career and the consistent theme they bring to the relationship is honesty, humor and candor.  There is also a mutual interest in each other’s well-being which is incredibly fulfilling. Role model is an interesting phrase I try to stay away from. I want to emulate many great qualities individuals demonstrate but we all are “fixer uppers” to some extent because we are human. Healthy flaws give us texture.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive? 

Think of inclusion not as a program, initiative, imperative or platform but in the same way we take care of patients, conduct research and teach: Each of these missions is performed with major passion and in an exceptional manner.


John Watson, PhD, professor in School of Medicine

How has race affected your work?

This question begs the larger issue related to being a visible person of African descent in the United States. Every moment and dimension of my 75 years has been impacted by this reality. As such, I have/continue to make every effort to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge needed to meet successfully the daily professional and non-professional challenges associated with the artificial construct of “race.” This has required me to generate a foundation consistent with having a positive personal life journey, resisting both real and/or artificial societal barriers, engaging in activities that promote the success of others, exercising tolerance, choosing inclusion over exclusion, and exhibiting good and gentle character. The bottom line is, my approach to work and life are intertwined and both are impacted by the construct of “race”.

Who has been your role model or mentor?

I was blessed with two loving, forward-thinking parents and several appropriate guides, at the right time, from all walks of life and cultures. One cannot begin to realize his or her full potential in a vacuum. The fundamental traits of my role models are embodied in: “pathfinders”, “pioneers”, “challengers to orthodoxy” and “resilience”.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

Overmatch its Proclamations and Statement of Purpose with resources and keep moving “forward and upward.”


Judy Young, MPH, assistant director of the UCSF National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health

Who has been your role or mentor?

My parents, Joseph and Mary Ann Young were my role models. They taught me how to be courageous, to speak my truth, and to live as my authentic self. Their spirits and the lessons I learned from them continue to be my guide.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

While I am proud of the progress that is being made in some areas of UCSF, we have an enormous amount of work to do. The progress gives me hope; however, I am reminded almost daily of the microagressions experienced by many of us. Becoming more inclusive as an institution is a lengthy and deep process and will not be solved with a single training or workshop. It requires consistent work and commitment at all levels of the institution including an investment of time and financial resources so that every individual receives information, ongoing training and tools, systems of accountability at every level, and (given the diversity statistics from the UC Climate survey) a serious investment in promoting and retaining African-American staff and faculty.


Lamercie Saint-Hilaire, MD, resident physician

How has race affected your work?

As a black, queer, first-generation Haitian-American woman from a poor, working-class family, I appreciate the importance of acknowledging intersectionality of race, gender and class. Being black is a large part of my identity and a significant motivating factor in my advocacy and work. Although racism may now be a widely detested concept, structural racism and unconscious bias still exists today in our health care, economic, educational and criminal-justice systems. I see these inequities evident in my childhood, and the present day effects it has on my family, community and my patients.

The medical field is still predominantly a white cis-male profession. As I move further up in my career, I have become more painstakingly aware of how little I am represented.  I was motivated to become a doctor to serve the underserved, and as a current resident, I am realizing that institutional change must be an essential element of that call to service.

Who has been your role model or mentor?

My mother is my ultimate role model and inspiration. She always emphasized the importance of pursuing education and not giving up when facing adversity.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

UCSF should invest in pipeline programs, recruit and retain diverse students, residents and faculty and provide free tuition/housing for underrepresented-in-medicine students and residents with financial need.


Eric J. Brown, School of Dentistry student

How has race affected your work?

I don't think race has affected my work. It simply motivates me to do the best that I can on a daily basis to prove to myself and others, dentistry is where I belong.

Who has been your role model or mentor?

I have had many mentors and role models my entire life. Family and friends. If I had to pick one, it would be my fiancé, Jasmin. She motivates me and pushes me to become better every single day.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

UCSF could be more inclusive by having more events and recognition of African-American students here on campus throughout the entire year, not just Black History Month. Maybe an article each month highlighting underrepresented minority students and accomplishments.


Renee Navarro, PharmD, MD, vice chancellor for Diversity and Outreach

How has race affected your work? 

As an African-American woman in medicine, I have been impacted by both race and gender, and at times the intersectionality of both. I have been challenged to find a supportive community and collaborators on issues of most importance to my practice clinically. However, my race and gender have also provide me the privilege of being a mentor, role model and support for other women and people of color within academic medicine. Over the last five years as vice chancellor, I have tried to be a voice for those who may not always be heard and found great pleasure in bringing critical issues forward and working towards institutional and individual solutions.

Who has been your role model or mentor? 

My academic mentor has been Dr. Cedric Bainton, who was the first person to encourage me to seek a career at UCSF.  He supported my development and taught me about the written and unwritten rules within academia. I have many roles models: my mother, my two strong sisters, Dr. Joan Reede at Harvard to name a few.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive? 

I believe that we need to establish at orientation for new employees and for new students that UCSF follows the principles of community. We need to continue our education and training on diversity, bias, micro aggressions, privilege and expand our understandings of culture. Salary equity and career opportunity equity are the embodiment of those principles. Ultimately the diversity of our organization (staff especially) must more rapidly reflect the demographics of the state of California.


Elba Clemente-Lambert, co-founder of the UCSF Black Caucus

How has race affected your work?

Being an activist at an early age taught me not to allow race to affect my work in a negative way. I used moments of others' ignorant behavior with respect to racial discrimination as a learning experience and a teachable moment. On the other hand, in some cases there is nothing one can do or say to draw attention to another’s ignorant behavior/actions because it may just be part of their DNA. Although, I believe racism is a learned behavior. I choose just to move on and concentrate my energies on the positive rather than negative. Life is too short to dwell on negativity, especially if you have no control over the outcome. There were challenges while working at UCSF in my capacity as a Labor Relations Specialist but, once the department head/manager I worked with regarding an employee issue recognized I had my act together, I gained their respect. The rest is history!

Who has been your role model or mentor?

Joanne Lewis, the first chair of the UCSF Black Caucus was my mentor in terms of her leadership skills as well as her keen analytical abilities when it came to problem solving. The other mentor was my first Employee/Labor Relations manager, in the Personnel Department – the late Noel Christian. She taught me fairness and firmness in the application of UCSF’s Policies and Procedures and helped me develop my investigative skills. 

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

Continue to create awareness for the need to be inclusive as a culture as there is much to be benefited when we’re all on the same page. But, particularly be firm and decisive with those who deter from, interfere with or violate the policies that nurture the embodiment of inclusion.


Pierre Theodore, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon

How has race affected your work?

I am not sure that race per se has a significant effect on my work.  However, I do believe that ethnicity can play a role in drawing the attention of colleagues and trainees to issues that are particularly prominent among disadvantaged populations across many ethnicities. Identification with a specific ethnic group also incurs a responsibility in meetings on rounds or in mentorship to ask probing and challenging questions of the role of race in the care that we deliver.

Who has been your role model or mentor?

Dr. Hobart Harris has been a role model for me of a supremely competent clinical investigator who remains both affable and kind.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

UCSF creates a climate that – with respect to ethnicity – is very supportive and inclusive. I think UCSF serves as a beacon to support the notion that a gender and ethnically diverse community can perform at the highest levels in the health sciences professions.


LaMisha Hill, PhD, director of the UCSF Multicultural Resource Center

How has race affected your work?

Being African-American is central to my cultural and personal experience in the world. While it is just one of many aspects of my identity, it is a source of internal pride and strength. The Black Caucus at UCSF has afforded me an opportunity to learn more about the history of African-Americans within this institution, and while there has been growth much work still remains. I am grateful for being a part of the Office of Diversity and Outreach, as it provides a mechanism where I can serve others and facilitate change.

Who has been your role or mentor?

I have many role models and mentors, some I know intimately and others I admire from a far – but if I have to choose just a few I will name: Dr. Anthony Chambers, chief academic officer of The Family Institute at Northwestern University (the first African-American psychologist I ever met who inspired a dream I would not have claimed otherwise); Dr. Claytie Davis, director of Training, Counseling and Psychological Services at UC Berkeley (who transformed a moment of professional disappointment into the career I have today); and my nuclear family including Ruthie-Lee McAfee, Paula Ward Hill, Travis Hill and Natasha Hill.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

I really admire the work of Dr. Howard Pinderhughes and his "Anchor Institution" framework. As a world-renowned health care institution and second-largest employer in the city, we can leverage our collective talent to proactively engage in social, economic and health justice.


Talmadge King, MD, dean of the School of Medicine

How has race affected your work?

I understand that being one of few African-Americans in a leadership role at UCSF places me in a special position. However, I try to not let that dominate my thoughts or actions. I believe that if we follow some simple rules, all of our lives would be better, for example – be truthful, do the right thing for the right reasons, be fair, build goodwill, fight for underdogs, and give the world the best you can. 

Who has been your role model or mentor?

My parents, Talmadge and Almetta, remain my role models.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

We have to strengthen our commitment of building a diverse faculty, student, trainee and staff community. We have to value a culture that is welcoming, supportive, and culturally competent. UCSF is where inclusiveness should be championed and we need to do it now.


Derek Smith, School of Medicine student

How has race affected your work?

I have been fortunate in my experience to find that race has not really played a role in my work. There are other aspects of my life through which my race has created barriers, issues, distrust, etc., but my educational and professional career have not been affected. In my mind, this really is a testament to the power of education and growth in a diverse community with open communication. 

Who has been your role model or mentor?

Ever since I can remember, there has always been a role model in my life who has been both a mentor and like a brother to me. He has been a source of strength in times of challenge where I could not turn to my parents. I have seen him grow and through obstacles and challenges over many years that he always met with a smile and a positive outlook. He has taught me to always see the good in people first and how to keep your head up. I could not have asked for a better friend or male figure in my life, and now that he has three children I only hope that I can do for them half of what he did for me.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?

In my short time at UCSF, I have found that UCSF is phenomenal when it comes to addressing issues of race. The University as a whole is very aware and has done a great job recruiting faculty, staff and students who share similar values and ideals. I think that UCSF could do more of their education of race/disparities/cultural inclusion/etc. through involvement with the community. We have had many great speakers and discussion sessions where we have been encouraged to speak and reflect on issues.  But we have rarely been active in or interacted with the diverse community about which we speak. I do believe that UCSF is already moving in this direction, but this will be a huge step in inclusion once it is achieved.


Andre Campbell, MD, trauma surgeon

How has race affected your work?
As an African-American trauma surgeon, I think that race has affected my view of the world. Many of the victims of violence I see are black and it is at times hard to see since the victims look like me. I have tried to work in the community over the years to help make things better. As far as my career, I think race does play a part in opportunities that may present themselves, but I try not to let that affect my daily routine.

Who has been your role model or mentor?
I have had many mentors and role models over the years. I would include John Watson, Michael Drake, Eugene Washington and Haile T. Debas. All have been tremendously positive and supportive role models for me over my time at UCSF. Many have left, but I still feel their presence.

What could UCSF do to be more inclusive?
UCSF is a great institution with incredible potential for the future. Our medical students have lead the way with the creation of the "White Coats for Black Lives” movement. Our school has now begun to focus on diversity issues with the school-wide initiatives lead by Dr. Talmadge King. I have great hope that the climate can be improved since many students, residents and faculty who are underrepresented minorities currently feel isolated, and I hope these initiatives will help change the perception and feeling that people of color experience at UCSF. The future will, I am sure, bring many great things and the diversity initiative lead by Dr. Navarro and many others will make the institution better for everyone.


We are driven by the idea that when the best research, the best education and the best patient care converge, great breakthroughs are achieved. We pursue this excellence through our people, who bring a rich diversity of experiences and perspectives to the work we do. Check out more One UCSF stories and join the conversation using #OneUCSF.

For more campus news and resources, visit Pulse of UCSF.