We will not turn a blind eye; ending racism in healthcare is on all of us
Six months ago, Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, died in a Quebec hospital. Her cries for help were ignored by hospital staff but have now resounded across Canada. They served as a wake-up call for health systems, health professionals, and the institutions that train nurses, doctors, and rehabilitation therapists. When systemic racism is so grievous that it causes death, no one should turn a blind eye.
But we did not get here suddenly. This did not happen in isolation.
Acts of racism happen all the time, even in “small” ways. Unconscious biases and racial microaggressions are common, everyday occurrences for people who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour). We often dismiss these acts because we believe that they could not possibly kill anyone.
But it is the very act of turning a blind eye and ignoring those “small” acts of racism, that creates the fertile ground for the most dangerous types of systemic racism. This paves the path and creates the conditions where an Indigenous woman can die alone in a hospital while pleading for help.
Not every act of racism causes or leads to death. But for learners, staff, faculty members and patients, they do cause harm. They result in trauma and the feeling of not belonging. They can dramatically change the course of one’s life. They are damaging and they are often invisible.
In the Faculty of Health Sciences, we do not accept discrimination or racism. And like anything else in healthcare, we do not wait until something causes death before we put measures in place to stop it.
Let it be said today: we are done. We will not turn a blind eye. We are going to call out racism when we see it and we are going to deal with it head on.
To those of you in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) who have experienced racism or discrimination, please know that I see you. I believe you. You have struggled long enough, and I will not stand for it. No matter what you have been told – be it outright or subtle racist messages – you belong here.
We must make our faculty a safe place for everyone. There is much work to be done. In the coming months you will see several initiatives taken to demonstrate our commitment to this change. You will see tools for cultural change at FHS come to life. We are going to equip our leaders with the resources they need to be allies in this work, and I am going to invite them to publicly voice their commitment to supporting you.
We strongly encourage you to seek support if you experience instances of discrimination or racism. Dealing with these cases is a critical part of changing our culture and holding a safe space for this is a top priority. Below, you will find further information on where to access support.
In the fall, you will see an updated policy on harassment, discrimination, and racism released by Queen’s University which has been designed to ensure a respectful and inclusive living, learning, and working environment can be provided to all university community members. This will support the university’s commitment to prevent harassment and discrimination through education and other proactive measures and support the effective response to reports and complaints of harassment and discrimination. To those of you who are working to become allies, whether you are well on your way or just getting started, thank you. Together we can ensure that the Faculty of Health Sciences is a fair, safe, and inclusive place to work and learn.
Where to access support or information to address discrimination or racism concerns:
- Person of Authority within your unit, Program or School (manager, department head, undergraduate and graduate program coordinator, etc.)
- Human Resources (Directors of HR or HR Advisors in Human Resources) - http://www.queensu.ca/humanresources/contacts
- Human Rights and Equity Office
- Faculty Relations
- University Ombudsperson (“Ombudsperson")
- Student Affairs
- Four Directions Indigenous Student Center
- Office of Indigenous Initiatives
- Faith and Spiritual Life Office
- Queen’s Employee and Family Assistance Program
Recommended EDI training
Full catalogue of Human Rights and Equity Office courses