No Place for Hatred
To the YSM and Alumni Communities:
Last week the graduating Class of 2021 took an oath as they became physicians. They expressed the conviction that “all humans are deserving of our highest degree of care,” regardless of “ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.” They vowed “to respect all patients, including those who hold beliefs that contradict our own.” Each day the members of our community live that oath, whether they care for patients, educate students, advance discovery, or create and maintain the infrastructure that makes this work possible. For this reason, it saddens me when an event appears to undermine our values.
On April 6, an invited speaker gave Grand Rounds at the Child Study Center (CSC), with the provocative title “The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind.” After the event, faculty members from diverse backgrounds expressed concern about the content of the talk through the reporting system of the Office of Academic and Professional Development (OAPD) and to the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
I reviewed the video along with Deputy Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Darin Latimore. We found both the content and the tone of the talk to be antithetical to the values of our school. Because Grand Rounds are typically posted online after the event and in consideration of Yale’s commitment to the right of free expression, we sought the guidance of university experts on freedom of speech and reviewed the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale.
In deciding whether to post the video, we weighed our grave concern about the hostile speech, imagery of violence, and profanity expressed by the speaker against our commitment to freedom of expression. Even hateful speech is protected under the First Amendment in our country. We ultimately decided to post the video with access limited to those who could have attended the talk—the members of the Yale community. To emphasize that the ideas expressed by the speaker conflict with the core values of Yale School of Medicine, we added the disclaimer: “This video contains profanity and imagery of violence. Yale School of Medicine expects the members of our community to speak respectfully to one another and to avoid the use of profanity as a matter of professionalism and acknowledgment of our common humanity. Yale School of Medicine does not condone imagery of violence or racism against any group.”
Since the Grand Rounds, the CSC has begun to wrestle with several fundamental questions. Why was a speaker without an academic affiliation invited to give Grand Rounds and did the inviters understand the nature of the talk? Once the speaker sent the title of her talk and the learning objectives, why was the talk not cancelled? Why did no one intervene when the speaker began to use images of violence against a specific racial group? And most importantly, how do we ensure that our discourse is always civil? Deputy Dean Latimore has been engaged in these conversations. The CSC has already made changes to its processes for vetting speakers.
Until Friday, these conversations and deliberations have taken place in the department where the event occurred. On Friday, however, a news site published an apparent soundtrack and excerpts from the talk. In response, Yale School of Medicine posted a statement on the CSC website.
In the coming weeks and months, we, as a school, will continue to engage in self-reflection and dialogue about how to create a safe and inclusive environment and how to live our core values. We must continue to have zero tolerance for racism. Some who heard the April 6 Grand Rounds interpreted it as an expression of frustration and anger, but the speaker crossed the line when she spoke about imagining violence against others. As physicians, students of medicine and science, and staff engaged in patient care, education, and discovery, we value human life above all else.
As we review this specific event, we must hold ourselves accountable and look for and correct system failures. We must continue to demonstrate the behaviors we expect of others and listen to and treat each other with respect. Importantly, we cannot let others define us or obscure the good work we are doing every day to realize our mission:
Yale School of Medicine educates and nurtures creative leaders in medicine and science, promoting curiosity and critical inquiry in an inclusive environment enriched by diversity. We advance discovery and innovation fostered by partnerships across the University, our local community, and the world. We care for patients with compassion, and commit to improving the health of all people.
Nancy J. Brown, MD
Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine
C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine