New Mural Celebrates Diverse Heroes in Nursing

October 2019Milenko Martinovich

The UC San Francisco School of Nursing has unveiled a new mural that commemorates a diverse set of nurse heroes whose work and advocacy revolutionized health care and paved the way for diversity and inclusion in nursing.

Entitled Difference is Power, the mural underscores the School’s commitment to diversity and ensuring a welcoming, inclusive environment for all.

“Beauty and color – and weaving in all those colors – is medicine for us,” said Karen Lopez-Acero, a master’s student and president of the School’s Associated Students of the School of Nursing. “It teaches us to love each other, how to respect each other, how to honor the different ways we come to the table with different things, so we can care for each other. That’s what this is for me, and I know I will be walking along these halls reminded of that.”

More than 100 people – faculty, students, staff, alumni and special guests California State Sen. Scott Wiener and Norman Yee, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors— celebrated the mural in the School’s third-floor corridor Oct. 2, 2019.

“I’ve known many heroes and heroines during my time where they never get recognition. They’re usually people of color and people from diverse backgrounds,” Yee said. “I think that’s changing a lot because people are realizing it takes all of us to make society the place we live in today.”

From left, Executive Vice Chancellor Dan Lowenstein, President Norman Yee of the SF Board of Supervisors, artists Jessica Sabogal and Shanna Strauss, Dean Catherine Gillis and state Sen. Scott Wiener. (Photography by Elisabeth Fall) The idea for the mural originated with students. When Dean Catherine Gilliss met with students in her first month in the position in late 2017, they advocated for the School to display more contemporary and diverse images of the nursing community and stated that the existing artwork depicting white women in nursing was not reflective of the times.

“What the students helped me to understand is those depicted are not the only people who came before us, and they’re certainly not representative of our community today,” Gilliss said.

Gilliss commissioned the mural and assembled a committee with faculty, staff and student representation to work with public art consultant, Barbara Goldstein, to develop a project description and issue a call for proposals.

The resulting 16-foot by 8-foot mural, by Bay Area artists Shanna Strauss and Jessica Sabogal, blends portraits of four pioneering nurses, with images of other historic individuals, groups and organizations that paved the way for diversity and inclusion in nursing.

“Today we get to celebrate and honor them,” said Lopez-Acero, “and tomorrow we continue the fight.”

The mural features:

  • Sarah Gomez Erlach, who served more than 30 years in the U.S. Army before creating the Primary Health Care and Community Service Division in California’s health department that served as a blueprint to the development of primary care in the state
  • Florence “Flo” Stroud, a former UCSF professor who, during the AIDS epidemic, authored critical guidelines for the prevention of prenatal transmission of HIV and the care of mothers, infants, and children infected with the AIDS virus
  • Marilyn Chow, a UCSF School of Nursing clinical professor who has been named a “Living Legend” by the American Academy of Nursing. As Kaiser Permanente’s vice president for National Patient Care Services, Chow was pivotal in establishing a living laboratory at Kaiser where ideas are tested and solutions developed in a simulated clinical environment.
  • Emma Deboncoeur, a trans nurse, activist and student leader in the School’s Master’s Entry Program in Nursing, who died unexpectedly in March 2018.
  • Women of La Cruz Blanca, a volunteer brigade of international Mexican American relief nurses during the Mexican Revolution and its founder, Leonor Villegas de Magnón
  • Mabel K. Staupers, a pivotal figure in improving the status of African American nurses and promoting better health care for African Americans
  • Red Cross Nurses in the Philippines, symbolizing the immigration policies that brought thousands of Filipino nurses to the U.S.
  • Cliff Morrison, a former UCSF School of Nursing faculty member and San Francisco General Hospital staff member, who was instrumental in opening the first dedicated inpatient AIDS unit in the country in 1983.

The inclusion of Morrison was especially meaningful to Wiener, who credited Morrison and his peers with enabling people to receive treatment “with respect and dignity.” Wiener, though not living in San Francisco at the time, recalled witnessing the AIDS epidemic take so many lives of gay men.

“I’m in the role that I am today, and frankly, I am alive today because of the work that happened in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s during a very scary time when we didn’t know what was happening,” said Wiener, who is gay.

Strauss and Sabogal — whose mother Regina Otero-Sabogal is a professor emerita at the School and whose father Fabio Sabogal is a past UCSF professor and researcher — worked with UCSF Archives and Special Collections to select historic photographs of the people portrayed in the mural. The mural took five months to complete off-site before its installation at the School.