By Alejandra Rincón, PhD

Alejandra Rincón, PhD serves as Chief of Staff to the Vice-Chancellor in the Office of Diversity and Outreach. She made the initial proposal for the Teach In. Rincón is the author of the first book on the history of undocumented students’ access to education, entitled “Undocumented Immigrants and Higher Education: Sí se puede!.” She was also the first director of Multicultural Affairs at Prairie View A&M, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

With the 2/24 Teach In on “Injustice and Health”, UCSF made history. We stood down. We decided to step back, interrupt our routine and dedicate our collective, precious time and resources. By calling for this Teach-in, we have made a statement that the issues of racism, discrimination, Islamophobia and health care disparities are not routine. By doing so we affirm that we care, and that we too want to be part of efforts towards a better society, a better tomorrow, where one day we will relegate such problems to the musty dustbin of ancient history.

The most difficult part of history is to see it as such, from within, as we live and make it. Later, we are told that was a historical moment, but in the moment it is hardest to grasp the import of our actions. It is hardest to see how we fit in the world. Does this world exist to merely serve us, or can we see ourselves as serving to make a better world? History is made by millions but starts with one. In Spanish we say: dar mi granito—we can each give our kernel.

Across the world, more and more of humanity stands at a crossroads in a world at crisis. On the one hand, in the world there is a rising tendency to seek to blame, to appeal to fear and resentment, to national and religious chauvinisms, to racism and xenophobia. We are counselled to narrow our thinking and to carve out turfs in an ever-shrinking zero-sum pie. We are advised to put up walls, to pull up the ladders and leave the drowning and the sick to their own devices. We are told to look out for us and ours, for “they”—the others—want to take what we have. Run, and let the devil take the hindmost! That is one road offered us. It is a road taken before, and we have seen the consequences.

What are the priorities? What is researched? What medicines are developed? Who is treated? How are they treated? Who will treat them? None of this is unaffected by these issues and how we understand them.

Or we can reject that trap, and instead firmly walk down another road. We can see ourselves as continuing the struggles for civil rights, the dignity of all persons, and for greater equality and solidarity. History has also shown that those who are incapable of defending others, are hardly capable of defending even themselves. We can aspire to be health care professionals who truly serve, and provide medicine and care that can improve the lives of millions.

Why does UCSF address such topics? Far from standing above or outside of such forces and events, history has demonstrated again and again that medicine and science have always reflected broader moral and political outlooks for good or for ill. Issues of disparity, diversity, equity and inclusion affect who we are and what we do as medical professionals.

I view this teach-in as a modest contribution to understanding these problems, an opportunity to seek solutions for our world, for our university. I am proud that UCSF has led, and in a modest way enabled us to make our own history.