Memorial service offers chance for sharing, reflectionby Kathy Whitney | Jul. 21, 2016, 10:46 AM
Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) held a Memorial Service for Recent Victims of Violence in America and the World on Wednesday to give faculty, staff and students an opportunity to reflect and share their thoughts and feelings about recent national events that have resulted in violent and senseless deaths.
Held in 208 Light Hall, the service, which was organized by School of Medicine students, included the sharing of music, poetry, personal anecdotes and reflections that bore witness to the deeply held emotions expressed by those who ventured to the microphone to speak.
Andre Churchwell, M.D., welcomed the near capacity crowd, which overflowed into 214 Light Hall.
“Recent events have been catalytic in our thinking of putting together such a service. It is the appropriate time to react and respond as a community. The pain and the grief that so many people are feeling in America are shared by the VUMC community. We thought the VUMC family needed to come together to share thoughts and offer each other solace. By coming together we can generate and share a collective spiritual strength,” said Churchwell, Levi Watkins Jr. M.D. Chair, professor of Medicine, Biomedical Engineering and Radiology and Radiological Sciences, senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer for VUMC.
“I’m concerned about these events happening around the country. I’m also very concerned about how the people here feel and react to these events,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., President and CEO of VUMC and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It makes us feel vulnerable, scared and in some cases, traumatized. We’re going to be working on that issue in this Medical Center. This is the beginning of that discussion.”
Amy Fleming, M.D., associate dean for Medical Student Affairs, moderated the program, introducing Maj. Charles DeFrance, a member of the Vanderbilt University Police Department for 33 years.
DeFrance vowed to those gathered, “We are aware of the challenges we face, but we are committed to making sure we at VUPD treat everyone with utmost respect and dignity.”
The remainder of the service belonged to the students who shared their feelings through music, poetry readings and personal storytelling. Third-year student Tony Qui spoke of his immigration from China to the United States in 2010 and his coming to terms with his sexual orientation while confronting racism and bigotry.
Third-year medical student Efi Akam shared three poems, “Minstrel Man,” “I, Too” and “A Lesson in Drawing.”
Third-year medical student Petria Thompson, who helped organize the memorial service with Akam and classmates Josh Cockroft and Dillon O’Neil, shared a memory of her family being pulled over by a police officer for a routine traffic stop while traveling on a family vacation.
“In my mind, looking back, I think they thought we were suspicious,” she said. “Being black in America, unfortunately, means fearing the individuals who are supposed to protect you because there is no such thing as routine.”
Bonnie Miller, M.D., Executive Vice President of Educational Affairs, then invited anyone in the audience who wished to share their thoughts and feelings to do so, and several students obliged, before Miller closed out the service with a music video of “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
In the coming weeks and months the Medical Center will sponsor a series of events that will bring invited experts to speak on the issues of race in America, violence and other related topics.
These events will be advertised broadly, and will be organized through the Office for Diversity Affairs of VUMC and VUSM.
Kathy Whitney, (615) 322-4747