College of Nursing 2020 Spring Seminar Series: Dr. Em Rabelais
February 11, 2020
12:00 pm-1:00 pm
Life Science Laboratories
UMass Amherst Campus
The Office of Research in the College of Nursing is delighted to present the first talk in its 2020 Spring Seminar Series. Dr. Em Rabelais, an academic health ethicist and health humanities scholar and an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing, will discuss "Listening outside of whiteness: Make our bodies matter."
We in these institutional spaces have been told for centuries—by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well by the disabled, queer and trans* folx, and others—that health and healthcare is a contested political state, centered within the oppressions of whiteness and, more accurately, white supremacy. Is our refusal to listen finally entertaining a crack in the wall? Whiteness, by its defining existence, always centers itself; there is no way for whiteness to exist without holding on to and commanding in/from the center. Whiteness has always been political because every policy is built from/within whiteness, which dictates what is (ab)normal and (un)acceptable about bodies, encompassing what bodies look like and how bodies are used. Health professions and research educators attained their position(alities) only through complying with whiteness; as such, how can they/we confront the concept I call whiteness-in-us that promotes a specific transmission and prioritization of knowledge and knowledge’s sources? Grounded in listening to, reflecting upon, and believing Black feminist and intersectional discourse, I call for us to engage and disrupt the whiteness-in-us. Quite often our students, always for our patients, and sometimes we as educators and clinicians, know where whiteness resides and how it works, yet our integrations of which knowledges are normal/acceptable continue to manifest the centering of whiteness in the classroom and clinic. Students’ and patients’ impassioned pleas against whiteness are part of our daily realities and share a rhetorical goal with the artistic expressions of spoken word poetry. Spoken word is an oppositional art intended for performance and frequently embodies issues such as social and racial justice, the personal as political, and responses to normative whiteness’s (mis)understandings of the body. Because spoken word poetry centers personal, family, and community lives, it is also inherently related to health. Spoken word artists, such as FreeQuency, Muna Abdulahi, Kate Hao, Sabrina Ali, Arianna Brown, Ebony Stewart, and others, offer us a starting point to ask ourselves questions about how we center whiteness in our work as healthcare clinicians and researchers every day—even if that’s the last thing we’d want.
Dr. Rabelais' scholarly focus is on decentering whiteness in bio-/health ethics and biomedical and health professions, research, education, and practice. Dr. Rabelais completed undergraduate studies at Muskingum College in Ohio (music and bioethics) and Columbia University (nursing), and they have a MA in religious and cultural studies from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and completed MS, MBE (bioethics), and PhD studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Before a move to Chicago, Dr. Rabelais was Assistant Professor of Bioethics and manager of the MA in Urban Bioethics program at The Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia. Their work in Chicago brings forward an inclusive and distinct ethics that prioritizes critical resistance and identity-focused narrative ethics approaches to purposefully center patient, community, and student narrative voices as the definers of whiteness’s oppressions in order to initiate dismantling the transmission of learned, enacted centered whiteness in these settings and to re-create space, practice, and education as defined by those who are demanding the change.