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Laura Seitz, KSL

University of Utah medical students call for school to cut ties with police

By Ashley Imlay, KSL | Updated - Jun. 12, 2020 at 9:33 p.m. | Posted - Jun. 12, 2020 at 7:01 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of students from the University of Utah School of Medicine gathered Friday to deliver a list of demands to school officials in hopes of combating racism in the community.

“Racism is and has been prevalent in health care and leads to disparities in health outcomes. And that is something that is contradictory to what we hope to accomplish as physicians in improving our patients’ health,” said Madison Kieffer, a second-year medical student.

As part of the national White Coats for Black Lives movement of health care workers advocating for racial equality after the killing by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the students, residents and physician assistants are calling Utah’s flagship medical school to cut ties with police.

“It does not mean no efforts for community safety. It means looking into other ways to keep our campus, and our clinics,and our patients safe,” Kieffer said.

Kieffer spoke to reporters after she and a group of about 20 other students quietly entered and exited the medical school administration building sporting all black clothing to deliver their demands.

University officials in a statement Friday evening said they “appreciate the work the students presented and we look forward to working with them on these issues.”

“We are encouraged that some of the items requested are already in progress. Our leaders will review the document and meet with the students within two weeks to review a detailed plan,” officials said.

When pressed on what an end to relations with police — including the University of Utah Police Department — would look like for the medical school, Kieffer said the group will discuss specifics with administrators.

On the topic of police relations, the students also asked the school to:

  • No longer collaborate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
  • Eliminate the police department budget and reallocate funds to programs supporting people of color and people in crisis.
  • Release data on the races of students, residents, faculty, staff and community members involved in interactions with campus police officers.
  • Create “a clear action plan to address racist inequities in campus police interactions.”
  • The list of demands, which Kieffer said was signed by 286 medical, physician assistant and nursing students as well as resident physicians and community members, also included calls for more minority representation among those accepted into the university and staff members.

“It is a problem in our school, and even just looking in our state’s population, we have an underrepresentation of Pacific Islander, black and Hispanic with Latinx community members in our University of Utah School of Medicine classes,” Kieffer said.

When asked whether racism is an issue specifically at the University of Utah, she said: “We don’t have, currently, an anti-racist required education as part of our curriculum. That automatically puts us in perpetuating racism.”

University of Utah School of Medicine students, residents, physician assistants and community members walk in single file to deliver a list of demands to medical school administrators in accordance with the mission of White Coats for Black Lives in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 12, 2020. (Photo: Laura Seitz, KSL)

The group wants an “over-representation” of black, Latino and Native American students, as well as Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians to be actively recruited into the incoming class, with a detailed plan released on how that will be accomplished.

The group also demands the university:

  • Create a clear anti-racism policy.
  • Increase the funding dedicated specifically to supporting students of color by at least 50%.
  • Undertake research into the ideologies and activities of those featured in names and images commemorated on campus, including those past and present, remove those that engaged in “eugenics or other white supremacist causes” or other forms of discrimination.
  • Provide required implicit-bias training to all residents, residents, faculty and staff.
  • Integrate mandatory education in aspects of health equity and justice, including the history of racism in medicine, into the medical education curriculum.
  • Publicly acknowledge that racism is a public health crisis.

Kieffer said officials “took our demands and received them well” and promised to meet with the group in the coming weeks.

She said she was hopeful change would happen.


Ashley Imlay

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