“we are the ones we have been waiting for”

February 2018Anjali Asrani and Denisse Porter
Anjali Asrani (top) and Denisse Porter

Advocacy and leadership are core principles of the nursing profession. It is with these principles in mind that a group of students from UC San Francisco School of Nursing have formed Nursing Students of Color (NSOC). This new organization aims to press ourselves, the university and, by extension, the greater health care system to live up to our professed ideals. We expect this post will be the first of several from NSOC addressing why our organization is necessary.

A Mission to Erase Health Inequities

we are the ones we have been waiting for” is the final line of a poem by June Jordan, commemorating a protest by tens of thousands of women and children against the infamous pass laws of South Africa’s apartheid government. The idea expressed in that line is at the core of NSOC. It reminds us that change begins now, with us – and that if we want to address health inequities, we must take action to undo the structural barriers that work against students of color throughout their academic and professional pursuits.

The inequities we see in health care today are a product of our nation’s institutions, which are rooted in histories of racism, oppression and inequality. The ever-present cracks in our nation’s foundation have become increasingly visible in the last year, whether it was a racist march in Charlottesville, Virginia; United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids across the country; or numerous iterations of immigration and travel bans targeted at Muslim communities.

At UCSF, we know that diversity and meaningful representation of the communities we serve are integral to providing better health care. However, the disturbing inequities of our country’s history are also deeply embedded in our country’s health care culture, and become visible in myriad ways as they rise to the surface. For example, in the 19th century, J. Marion Sims conducted horrific experiments on Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy and nine more unnamed enslaved women, without their consent or anesthesia. Sims’ actions and findings led him to be regarded as the “father of modern gynecology.” Today, we see how this attitude toward African Americans and women plays a role not only in disparities in African American maternal and child health outcomes when compared to the rest of the population, but also in the ways communities of color receive inequitable treatment, including inferior access to health care and treatment options and, often, poor communication with their providers.

As a health sciences institution, UCSF is committed to recognizing both explicit and implicit biases, but recognition alone is not enough. We need to find ways to sustainably and meaningfully translate recognition into better health care delivery and outcomes for communities of color. This involves remodeling our educational and health care institutions in ways that shift systemic barriers to health equity in both systems. Such a transformation calls for our institutions to not only admit students from diverse backgrounds, but also create spaces that are welcoming – that hear and place value on those students’ voices and perspectives.

Nursing Students of Color Organizes at UCSF

Nursing Students of Color members, from left: Claudia Barrera, Talita Wells Oseguera, Denisse Porter, Florence Chien, Kaitlyn Basnett, Haila Albgal, Gloria Gonzalez, JoiLyn Camyl Anderson, Sabrina Wood, Khaled Zaki, Cora Lee Garcia, Anjali Asrani These beliefs inspired the creation of NSOC, an organization we hope will raise awareness of and tackle the issues we face within UCSF, as well as in the communities we pledge to serve. NSOC is a newly registered campus organization that began as an effort to address the disparities in health care our communities face, and bolster efforts to broaden the representation of diverse communities of color in nursing and health care by building social and policy-based mechanisms of support. NSOC members include nursing students from the School’s Master’s Entry Program in Nursing, master’s and doctoral degree programs, who come from a variety of backgrounds and communities. Because of the diversity within our organization, we focus not only on our common goals and challenges, but also on building bridges and bonds across communities of color at the School.

To ensure students and communities of colors’ concerns are represented within the context of UCSF, NSOC has committees that focus on:

  • Providing individual support via academic resources, career mentoring and alumni networking for current students.
  • Developing and providing safe spaces to discuss and challenge issues around institutional and structural racism within UCSF and the health care environment.
  • Ensuring representation of students of color on issues that impact UCSF students and communities of color.
  • Supporting and mentoring prospective nursing students of color through the application process and increasing the enrollment and retention of students of color at our School of Nursing.

Our plans for the coming year include social gatherings, networking and mentorship activities, and developing a speaker series. We also hope to collaborate with the School’s faculty and staff on all aspects of our mission.

We envision a world where people of color live self-determined and healthy lives, and where inclusion is fundamental to achieving academic, workforce and health equity. Please join us in helping to build this world together. To learn more about NSOC and join our email list, visit us at https://orgsync.com/125736/chapter.