A Primer on Power, Privilege, and Positionality
Jonathan Jackson set the tone at the beginning of a panel discussion directed towards new MGH Institute of Health Profession students focusing on recognizing power, privilege, and positionality during their first day on campus.
“Maybe some of you feel like some of this is so hard, that it would be so much easier if we had access to some kind a guru,” said Dr. Jackson, the director of the Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement Center (CARE) Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If someone could give us an answer sheet so we never got anything socially wrong, we could get our A+ in social wokeness.”
However, he noted, that’s not the case. “Providing competent care requires us to see the individual. We have to remember to attain the core values of professionalism, of inclusivity, of innovation and trust, of productivity, of accountability. All of those require us to truly lower our guard and be vulnerable to those around us to provide competent care.”
“What Is the IHP's Role in Health Care? Exploring the Impact of Power, Privilege, and Positionality” provided the more than 150 incoming students in the Master of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology programs with an first glimpse of the core values and mission at the MGH Institute. Throughout the afternoon session, health care professionals, students, alumni, and disability advocates discussed the importance of treating patients with dignity and respect while becoming the best health care professionals – and people – they can be.
Sponsored by the IHP’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council, the conversation was the most recent in a number of events designed to spur conversation and raise awareness on campus about issues surrounding diversity.
“We hope that by sharing the values of the Institute with you, you can get a better sense of what they mean and see how they are operationalized each day,” President Paula Milone-Nuzzo told the students. “We want you to know we are committed to living them as best we can in all that we do. They’re not just words on a paper. This is what we believe, and our values guide how we act.”
The panelists each had different suggestions on how students can better understand diversity issues, even if they have not been exposed to the many inequalities that often can hinder the patient-caregiver dynamic. “Acknowledge your discomfort,” said Kenya Palmer, MS-Nursing ’13, a nurse practitioner at Boston Medical Center. “Sit in it. Dance in it. Lather yourself in it. And then figure out why you like it, why you don't, and then rinse it off. You're in health care. You're going to say something that you think is uber respectful, and your patient is going to think otherwise. And you're going to have to ask ‘What did I do this time? How could I have done it better?’”
Other panelists during the first portion of the program were Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, an associate professor of health disparities at Tufts Medical School, and Lydia X.Z. Brown, a recent graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a disability advocate.
The second panel consisted of (l-r): Bani Singh, MS-Nursing ’20; Margarida Guerra-Larson, DPT ’19; Jorge Sanchez De Lozada, Staff Council chair; Charley Haynes, CSD faculty. At far right is moderator Antonia Makosky, SON faculty.
During a second session, students, faculty members, and staff spoke of their experiences at the Institute and how the school has worked to recognize and improve the campus climate around diversity and inclusion issues. The session consisted of moderator Dr. Antonia Makosky, assistant professor of nursing, and panelists Bani Singh, a Master of Science in Nursing student in the Class of 2020 and a representative from the student group Minorities Engaged in Dialogue and Service (MEDS); Margarida Guerra-Larson, a Doctor of Physical Therapy student in the Class of 2019; Jorge Sanchez de Lozada, Staff Council chair; Dr. Charley Haynes, a professor of speech-language pathology; and Dr. E. Lorraine Baugh, an honorary trustee of the Institute and co-founder of the National Black Nurses Association.