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Yale med students join in national white coat die-in

Dozens of medical students gathered outside the Sterling Hall of Medicine at noon on Dec. 10 as part of a nationwide demonstration of solidarity with victims of recent police killings in New York City and Ferguson, Mo. Evoking Eric Garner, who died after police in New York had him in a choke hold, the students chanted “I can’t breathe” 11 times.

Students at more than 70 medical schools across the country participated.

At Yale, students carried signs that read “White coats 4 black lives,” “Stand up and fight back,” and “Black lives matter.” Speakers placed the incidents around the country in the context of their own moral obligations as future health care providers. Second-year student Zola Chihombori Quao, one of the event’s organizers, described it as “in solidarity with those patients that will one day be affected by systemic discrimination.”

“Today we wear our white coats,” said first-year student Jessica Minor, another speaker. “These white coats have become symbol of our privilege, a sign of our claim to medical knowledge, our professional oath, and the trust that accompanies them. At the same time we affirm injustices perpetrated by members of our community that have worn these white coats.” Among those historical injustices, she said, were the exclusion of women and people of color from the medical profession, the exploitation of black bodies in medical experimentation, violations of human rights, failure to obtain informed consent for research, and the exploitation of indigenous knowledge in the development of pharmaceuticals, as well as the continued perpetration of disparities in health care treatment and access. “This is not just a political issue. This is a public health issue and, above all, this is a human rights issue. Current and future health care providers, it is our responsibility to confront the injustices of the institution we have created. … From this moment onward we will push beyond do no harm to do what’s right.”

The students lay down in front of the Sterling Hall of Medicine for four and a half minutes, symbolic of the four and a half hours that Michael Brown’s body lay on the street of Ferguson after he was shot by a police officer.

The demonstration ended with a moment of silence in the rotunda of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library.