How are big health issues being handled in the U.S. South? Leaders to discuss Affordable Care Act, gun control, income differences, more

Many core political issues facing health and health care in the United States are being shaped and played out in the South, from resistance to the Affordable Care Act and gun control to the struggle for health justice for lower income and minority populations.

These complex and often under-addressed issues will be tackled March 17-18 during a major interdisciplinary conference at Vanderbilt University, “The Politics of Health in the U.S. South.” The conference is free and open to the public.


Presented by Vanderbilt’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society, the conference will explore how the health dichotomies in the Southern United States often reflect, amplify and shape the political and economic tensions surrounding the politics of health nationally.

Jonathan Metzl
Dr. Jonathan Metzl (Vanderbilt University)

“Southern attitudes about public health and its discontents need to be understood, and empathically addressed, through awareness of such factors as historical beliefs about the scope of government intervention and autonomy, stigmatizations of race, socioeconomic class, sexuality and gender, religion, epigenetics, urban/rural divides, structural inequities, and even differing regional modes of narration and expression,” said Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl, the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health and Society, and director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society.

“Each influences the tone and tenor of Southern health debates in ways that have profound political, social, economic and biological implications.”


The conference will highlight the work of leading scholars, writers, journalists, students, physicians and activists who work on and in the South.

Speakers include:

Melissa Harris-Perry

Jesmyn Ward, author, National Book Award winner for Salvage the Bones
Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of politics at Wake Forest University, host on MSNBC
Bryant Simon, professor of history at Temple University, author of Everything But the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks
Kenneth Robinson, president, United Way of the Mid-South, physician and pastor emeritus of St. Andrew AME Church in Memphis, Tenn.
Kimberlyn Leary, adviser to the White House Council on Women and Girls


• “The Politics of Health in the South,” 2 p.m., March 17, Light Hall
• Melissa Harris-Perry keynote speech, 5 p.m., March 17, 124 Reading Room, Vanderbilt Divinity School
• “The Narratives and Poetics of the South,” 10 a.m., March 18, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
• “Health Justice and the U.S. South,” 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., March 18, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
• “Intersectionality in the South,” 2 p.m., March 18, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
• “The U.S. South in Global Contexts,” 3:30 p.m., March 18, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center

A full schedule is available on the conference website.

Sponsors of the conference in addition to the MHS include Vanderbilt Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs), the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, the REAM Foundation, Vanderbilt Divinity School, the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt, and the Vanderbilt Creative Writing Program.