‘Forum on Medicine, Race and Ethnicity in St. Louis, Past to Future’ Feb. 25

All-day gathering to explore local histories and experiences of health, illness and care

The Forum on Medicine, Race and Ethnicity in St. Louis, Past to Future will feature dozens of speakers. Pictured, clockwise from top left, are panel moderators Kenneth M. Ludmerer, Leo Cabassa, Anna Crosslin, Vetta Sanders-Thompson., Geoff Ward and Vanessa Cooksey.

Modern medicine is powered by science, but in many ways runs on trust. It’s hard to help a patient who can’t confide. It’s hard to rely on a caregiver who doesn’t seem to listen.

On Feb. 25, the Medical Humanities Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis will present a “Forum on Medicine, Race and Ethnicity in St. Louis, Past to Future.” The all-day gathering will feature dozens of speakers and panelists exploring how specific local histories, and the stories we tell about them, continue to impact the well-being of the region’s diverse communities.


“One of the things that the medical humanities do is prioritize the human experience of illness and care, both as individuals and as communities,” said Rebecca Messbarger, director of medical humanities and a professor of Italian in Arts & Sciences. “In St. Louis, the wounds of segregation and discrimination have not closed. To build a better future, we have to build more trust.”

Crossing disciplines

Co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the forum will begin at 8 a.m. with welcome remarks from Messbarger as well as Mary McKay, vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives, and Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in the Department of African and African American Studies in Arts & Sciences.

“This forum connects deeply to ‘Here and Next,’ the university’s 10-year strategic plan,” McKay said. “Faculty from across disciplines are contributing to panels, discussions and performances to address critically important issues that connect to one of the guiding principles of our plan: equity, diversity and inclusion.

“In addition, the role of community leaders as collaborative partners and voices within the forum exemplifies the community-focused pillar of ‘Here and Next,’” McKay added. “The forum represents so well the spirit of our strategic vision.”

Will R. Ross, MD, will deliver the keynote address. (Photo: Washington University)

Following welcome remarks, the forum will commence with a keynote address by Will R. Ross, MD, associate dean for diversity and principal officer for community partnerships at Washington University School of Medicine. A series of panel discussions will immediately follow.

Kenneth M. Ludmerer, MD, the Mabel Dorn Reeder Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the School of Medicine, will moderate a discussion on the legacy of St. Louis’ Homer G. Phillips Hospital.

Leo Cabassa, a professor and director of the PhD program in social work at the Brown School, will moderate a discussion of health and well-being in St. Louis’ Latin American community. Anna Crosslin, who led the International Institute of St. Louis for more than 40 years, will moderate a discussion of health and well-being in St. Louis’ Asian community.

Martha Nelson (left) and Zenobia Thompson will serve as panelists for a conversation on “The History and Legacy of Homer G. Phillips Hospital.” Both trained as nurses at the hospital. (Photos courtesy of the speakers)

After a break for lunch, and a performance by the Phil Woodmore Singers, the forum will continue with a panel on activist and reparative art, moderated by Vanessa Cooksey, president and CEO of the Regional Arts Commission.

Geoff Ward, a professor of African and African American studies in Arts & Sciences and director of the WashU & Slavery project, will moderate a discussion about the history, and fraught afterlife, of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe housing development.

Concluding the afternoon will be a panel on “Bodies at Risk: Obstetrics, Trauma and Disease,” moderated by Vetta Sanders-Thompson, the E. Desmond Lee Professor of Racial and Ethnic Diversity at the Brown School. 

Painter Cbabi Bayoc will take part in a panel discussion on “Activist and Reparative Art.” Pictured is Bayoc’s painting “At the Heart of It.” (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Organizers and registration

The forum is organized by the Medical Humanities Program and the Office of the Provost, with support from the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity, the Institute for Public Health and its Center for Community Health Partnership and Research, the WashU & Slavery Project, the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, and the Center for the History of Medicine at the Becker Medical Library,.

The forum is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required. Register here. All events will take place in the Clark-Fox Forum of Hillman Hall on WashU’s Danforth Campus. For a complete schedule, visit humanities.wustl.edu.

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