NYAS Lecture 10/29: Sick of Race: How Racism Harms Health and Misleads Medicine

Dr. Clarence Gravlee

As October wraps up we’re thrilled to announce another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series on October 29th at 5:45 PM at its new location, Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Clarence C. Gravlee, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida will be presenting, “Sick of Race: How Racism Harms Health and Misleads Medicine”. Ida Susser, professor of anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required. If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

Again please note that the NYAS lecture series is no longer being held at the offices of The Wenner-Gren FoundationAll talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Social scientists commonly assert that race is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. This refrain is correct in spirit, but it has proven to be an ineffective response to the persistence of racial-genetic determinism in medicine, science, and everyday life. What’s more, it creates a blind spot: deflecting attention away from the biological consequences of cultural constructs like race. We will explore how hidden assumptions about race, genes, and biology infect contemporary medicine and how integrating methods from the social and biological sciences clarifies the health effects of systemic racism.

About the Speakers:

Clarence C. Gravlee is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. The central goal of Dr. Gravlee’s research is to identify and address the social and cultural causes of racial inequities in health. His work is grounded in a biocultural approach to health and human development, drawing on methods from the social and biological sciences. His current primary project, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on the health effects of racism among African Americans in Tallahassee, FL. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, the project integrates conventional ethnographic methods, formal social network analysis, and epidemiologic methods. Gravlee has co-edited The Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology with Russell Bernard, now in its second edition, and has co-authored numerous articles.

Ida Susser is professor of anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center and has conducted ethnographic research in the U.S., Southern Africa and Puerto Rico on urban social movements and the urban commons. She has studied gender, the global AIDS epidemic and environmental movements. Her book AIDS, Sex and Culture: Global Politics and Survival in Southern Africa (Wiley-Blackwell 2009), which was awarded the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for research in women and health by the Society for Medical Anthropology (2012), draws on medical anthropology, science studies, global studies, as well as research on class, gender and race. It discusses the ways in which women mobilized, from small group meetings to major demonstrations, to prevent and treat AIDS in Southern Africa

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk. Buffet dinner begins at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).

Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Ireri Ceja Cardenas

Ireri Ceja Cardenas received her undergraduate degree at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, ITESO, México, and a Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Anthropological Documentary at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, FLACSO Ecuador. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship she will continue her training with a PhD in anthropology at Federal U. of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, supervised by Dr. Adrianna de Resende Barreto Vianna. Read the previous two entries in the series. 

I am a Mexican researcher in my first year of a PhD program in Social Anthropology at the National Museum (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). In spite of huge budget cuts to education, science and culture, the museum’s anthropology program has maintained its ranking as one of the most prestigious in the region. But on September 2, 2018, the year of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the National Museum and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, the museum (housed in San Cristóbal Palace) was consumed by fire. Nearly all of the installations and the historical, artistic, bibliographical and scientific collections perished, and the Social Anthropology Program and its ongoing research activities, teaching and social commitments have been greatly compromised.

By choosing a doctoral program in Brazil my goal is to help create alliances and collaborations between disparate academic traditions in Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil and unite scholars, who despite shared experiences and common histories, rarely have the opportunity to engage in conversation with one another.

After completing my degree in Communication Sciences at the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO, Guadalajara, Mexico), I earned my master’s degree in Visual Anthropology and Anthropological Documentary at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO, Quito, Ecuador), an institution I later joined as a researcher and collaborator.

For the past seven years I have been conducting research on migration and forced displacement. I have worked on identity and belonging of Haitian populations on the move following the 2010 earthquake throughout the Andean region, and studied their use of subversion strategies to overcome discrimination and exclusion. I have also studied displaced populations of Colombians residing in Ecuador and access to rights through their Mercosur visas. As an anthropologist I have developed the tools to explore heterogeneities and struggles within disparate categories such as refugee, multilateralism, regional and local integration. I have also applied a critical perspective to issues of violence, borders and smuggling of migrants, along with violations of human rights in the context of security policies and the closing of borders.

My research interests continue to focus on migration and displacement as consequences of “the crisis of civilization” and the Anthropocene and how these trends function in opposition to the control of natural resources and territories in Mexico and Latin America. I believe that anthropology allows us to question dichotomies such as nature / culture, universalism / particularism, agency / structure and to construct theoretical and practical alternatives to problems that emerge from capitalism and development.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chun-Yi Sum

Student volunteers conducting home visits in Sichuan province in China.

While a doctoral student at Boston University Chun-Yi Sum received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “The New Vanguard of Civil Society: Morality and Civic Consciousness among College Students in China”, supervised by Dr. Robert P. Weller. In 2017 Dr. Sum was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave her the opportunity to return to the field the following year to carry out her project, “Exploring Better Practices of Engaged Volunteerism in China”.

What makes effective social interventions? How should civic actors channel their passion into making sustainable contributions? In my dissertation research about student volunteerism and extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, I asked whether and how student organizations might invigorate China’s civil society, and how participatory experience might transform young people’s moral worldviews. In the summer of 2018, Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant funded my month-long revisit back to my dissertation field site. I organized workshops and lectures about culturally-informed interventions, and discussed with participants ways to develop “pretty good practices” of engaged volunteerism. I appreciate this opportunity to give back to civic groups that have generously shared their time and cultural knowledge with me when I was still a doctoral student. These activities also helped to promote the application of anthropological methods and humanistic sensibility among civic actors in China.

Students elicited information from school children and their parents to determine whether they were eligible for scholarships.

The primary audiences of my engagement project are student volunteers and staff members of two civic organizations that serve school children in impoverished rural communities in China. First, I joined a student group in a summer field trip to visit scholarship recipients whom they sponsored. Student volunteers wanted to determine whether to renew these scholarships in the upcoming academic year: how had the scholarships improved their recipients’ academic performances? Had the recipients’ families experienced significant changes in financial circumstances that might qualify them for or disqualify them from further sponsorship? Volunteers asked scholarship recipients a list of questions about household income and academic grades. They filled out a questionnaire after each home visit.

Chun-Yi Sum (left) and three social workers organized two days of activities for children in Guangdong province in China.

Besides teaching student volunteers interviewing techniques to facilitate their tasks, I helped them collect additional information that could be used for program evaluation and for updating the questionnaire. In debriefing meetings that I organized after each day’s home visits, I asked students to reflect upon their observations and impressions about the families they interviewed. I encouraged students to talk also to teachers and neighbors to understand more holistically their service site. More importantly, I challenged student volunteers to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their interventions, and to formulate a protocol about how to document their field experiences for sharing with volunteers in the future.

Student volunteers and their mentees designed a poster together.

The second group I worked with aimed similarly at helping marginalized children to perform better at school, but with a different approach. This group recruited university students to mentor rural children using letter writing as a medium. My second engaged activity was to accompany letter-writing students on a field trip to meet with their pen pals for the first time. We planned two days of activities for twelve pairs of student volunteers and children to learn more about each other. In the evenings, I met with staff members of the group to brainstorm about new ideas to motivate rural children to study. We also talked about ways to improve participants’ volunteering experiences. A week after the field trip, I gave a presentation at the organization’s headquarter to facilitate a conversation about program development and future projects.

Chun-Yi Sum discussed the application of anthropology in social initiatives.

In addition, the Engaged Anthropology Grant supported three public lectures in Guangzhou City before and after the two summer field trips. In these presentations, I introduced my working book manuscript about extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, as well as other publication plans based on my field research in the region since 2010. I also talked about the importance of incorporating cultural awareness and research-based evaluative protocol in responsible volunteering practices. These lectures attracted a total audience of about sixty, many of whom were volunteers, social workers, and past and present participants in student organizations in which I conducted my dissertation research in 2011 and 2012. I am glad to have the opportunity to connect with new and old friends in the field, and to explore with Chinese civic actors the synergy between anthropology and social initiatives.

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