On Saturday May 7th, 270 people gathered at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) in-person to take in the incredible work and wisdom of five inspiring plenary speakers, 50+ poster presenters, 13 breakout sessions and to connect with colleagues committed to transforming the field of global health at the UC Global Health Day 2022. In the opening land acknowledgement, Alexii Sigona, a UC Berkeley PhD candidate in Indigenous environmental studies and member of the Amah Mutsun tribal band set an important tone around the conference theme Centering Social Justice in Community Health. “We’re here on stolen land,” he said. “So, we have an obligation to center Indigenous peoples when we talk about social justice. Because for social justice to be actualized, we must sit with the fact that UC was founded on…the sale of Indigenous lands.” This call to re-think our colonial relationships with the land and other people was a theme carried throughout the day and served to form a narrative and tone that is not often present at a typical public health conference. It was a tone of revolution, change, and transformation of the systems within our professions. And it focused on building deeper relationships with people and the environment at all levels of our work.
Opening plenary speaker, Rupa Marya, MD, discussed transforming the relationships between healthcare providers and the people they serve through her talk, “Deep Medicine and the Care Revolution!” With the backdrop of live music played by Dr. Marya and three of her band members (Misha Khalikulov on cello, Aaron Kierbel on cajon, and Mario Alberto Silva on trumpet) of Rupa & the April Fishes, she laid out how colonial capitalism has broken the deeply held relationships between people and the earth and among communities. The solution she put forward is to repair those relationships through Deep Medicine, the approach which Dr. Marya and her co-author Raj Patel illuminate in their book, Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice. “Deep Medicine is nothing short of reimagining the world and understanding that revolutionary transformational action is an act of care and an act of courage,” she says. “The most potent revolution is the revolution of love…of transforming the world around us through very consciously transforming power.” We can do that, she says, by working alongside the people, specifically Indigenous peoples, who are fighting for that transformation through food sovereignty and the Land Back movements.
Renowned environmental justice activist, Vandana Shiva, PhD who joined by recorded video due to issues obtaining a U.S. visa, focused on repairing the relationship between people and the planet through her plenary speech, “The Planet’s Health and Our Health is One Health.” “Separation [between people and the earth] goes hand in hand with the illusion of superiority,” says Dr. Shiva. She calls this an “ecological apartheid” which creates, “the illusion that humans are superior to other species…and carries through in today’s conservation programs and today’s recipes of ‘greening the Earth,’ always at the cost of the Indigenous peoples.” Dr. Shiva concludes by calling for solutions rooted in Indigenous peoples’ connection and relationship with nature and to restore those connections between humans and the planet on a large scale.
In his talk, “Centering The Disadvantaged: Reflections On Community Partnership and Solidarity as Research Praxis,” afternoon plenary speaker Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD talked about the need to build connections and relationships with the people who are central to his research. He calls this “research humility.” “The only way to make a difference is to get in with people,” he says. “You need to think of their lives as important as your own.” He emphasizes the need to move beyond the idea of “interesting findings” and work in solidarity with research subjects, something he has done through his work in HIV reduction/elimination and with people who inject drugs. He notes that his findings have shown that policing harm reduction strategies like syringe exchange programs does more harm than good to people who inject drugs. Rather than sitting on that information, the researcher should be compelled to work with the people who are impacted, value the knowledge they bring from their lived experiences and aid in advocating for change.
Indigenous health professionals from the HEAL (Health, Equity, Action & Leadership) Initiative, Adriann Begay, MD and Cristina Rivera Carpenter, PhD MSN RN-BC rounded out the themes of relationship building through centering Indigenous knowledge in their closing plenary speech, "Relational Approaches in Indigenous Health: From Paternalism to Partnership." Dr. Begay discussed the concept of K’e in her language, Navajo, which means relationships and kinship. “It’s the relationship that we have among each other that gives us the support that we need,” she says. “The concept of that relationship, or K’e, has allowed Native people to survive 200+ years of federal Indian policy and 500+ years of colonialism.” And she believes the concept of K'e is what connects people to each other and health professionals to their patients. Dr. Rivera Carpenter then urged for "critical self-reflection" among global health professionals. "Think of accountability instead of responsibility," she says. "We are actually accountable to our patients, to our communities [we work with]," she says. "By focusing on accountability rather than responsibility we can grow our relations within our communities." And part of that growth relies on global health professionals seeing themselves as a part of global health as opposed to practicing it. “Global health is us,” she says. “It’s each one of us in this room today and each one of us in this world today.”
Some of the relationship building that happens in the field took place at UC Global Health Day. Attendees connected with their colleagues in more intimate conversations through 13 breakout sessions and a poster session featuring 53 presentations representing all 10 UC campuses. Breakout sessions included student-led discussions on the plenary themes and other topics included ending sexual violence on college campuses, educating medical students about immigrant rights, student action through Partners In Health Engage, and pathways to healing historic trauma on mental health in Indigenous communities. Posters featured topics such as controversies around detecting injury in post-rape care (presented by Jaimie Morse and colleagues from UC Santa Cruz), increasing racial diversity in veterinary medicine (presented by Woutrina Smith and colleagues from UC Davis), and the impact of arsenic groundwater contamination within Coachella Valley communities (presented by Monica Hope and colleagues from UC Riverside).
The connections built between colleagues at the event created an energy among students. “It’s inspiring and empowering,” says Manbir Sandhu, a medical student from UC Riverside. “It’s important to realize that [the medical system] is not working and should be changed. Being in a room with trail blazers inspiring change on a global and local level is empowering.” Nadia Lucia Peralta, a UCSC alumna and community herbalist, expressed how refreshing it was to hear radical approaches such as advocacy for the Indigenous Land Back movement in a way that merges science and art. “We need more conferences that connect artistic expression and science…which is important to the collective effort.”
Hana Yamamoto, a third year UCSC student and part of the team presenting the poster “Growing Communities and Cultural Knowledge of Care and Wellbeing” about a community herb garden that centers Black, Indigenous and people of color students, notes the connections she sees between their local work and what is happening globally. “I talked to somebody [who came by our poster] who is bringing ancestral knowledge to their work in Kenya, and it was cool to see how that connects to our work here,” she says.
The relationships built that day in the name of social justice were important to the hosts from Santa Cruz. "Having UCSC host the UC Global Health Day was particularly meaningful because we’re a community whose perspective is shaped not by a medical or public health school, but rather an academic culture rooted in social transformation and cross-collaboration between basic and social sciences," says Valerie Cortez, PhD, assistant professor in biology and on the UCGHD planning committee.
UCGHD co-host and UCGHI co-director, Ndola Prata, MD, MsC also sees the need and significance around the theme of social justice. “I see students linking what they are doing at a community level to something larger,” she says. “It gives me hope we’re doing something well for this generation of professionals.”
The day concluded with a celebratory concert by Rupa & the April Fishes at the Quarry Amphitheatre. There was no better way to cap off a meaningful day by connecting and building relationships through music and dancing.