The current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine features a chin-stroking article identifying a PROBLEM and wondering whether or not SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.
The problem? 55 portraits hanging in Yale Medical Schoolâ€™s Sterling Hall of Medicine, honoring distinguished former faculty feature the images of 52 white men and three white women.
Walls lined with portraits of past Yale medical luminariesâ€”almost all of them white menâ€”lead some medical students to feel that they themselves donâ€™t belong at the school, a recent study found.
Two students interviewed 15 of their peers, asking them open-ended questions about their thoughts on the paintings in the Sterling Hall of Medicine. The portraits feature 52 white men and 3 white women.
Some students said the portraits displayed values of whiteness, elitism, maleness, and power. Some felt â€œjudged and unwelcomeâ€; one said, â€œIf these portraits could speak, they would not be so excited about me . . . being a student here.â€ Some reported joking about the portraits or avoiding Sterling altogether.
â€œFor many interviewed students, the portraiture signified that they did not fit the model of the ideal Yale physician,â€ wrote coauthors Nientara Anderson â€™06, â€™20MD, and Elizabeth Fitzsousa â€™21MD. (The study is online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.) To many women students and students of color, the portraits represent a constant force of disapproval, says Anderson. Medical students of color, she adds, often already face challenges to their right to care for patients in the hospital. Other researchers have found that students who feel theyâ€™re on the margins may experience greater stress, potentially eroding their ability to succeed.
What should become of the portraits? Itâ€™s hard to know, but the conversation has begun, Anderson says. â€œIn recent years, this is the first time this question is being raised with such force,â€ she adds. â€œThereâ€™s no road map.â€
Actually, Springer wants $39.95 for you to download and read the article. Nor is it available through a major research library like Yale University’s main library journal subscription service (accessible to alumni). You can only access that particular journal through Medical School libraries.
How worthwhile it would be to take the trouble to read the entire article is rather questionable. Why would anyone take seriously a “study” which consisted of soliciting the personal opinions of a mere 15 people?
Nonetheless, all three authors now sit on the Yale School of Medicine Committee on Art in Public Spaces, “work[ing] to ensure that artwork hung in public areas of the medical school reflects the mission, history, and diversity of the Yale medical community.” Anna Reisman M.D., who co-chairs the committee, says “this study is an important step in effecting institutional change.” And the Yale Alumni Magazine has joined in promoting it as “the beginning of a conversation” about just what’s going to happen to all those portraits of Dead, White Men.
I think we all know just how this kind of “conversation” always ends.