Equity in care was the theme that ran through the 2023 Social Justice Awards Thursday night—equity of care for the transgender community, for women seeking access to abortion, for recent immigrants navigating a new culture, for Black and brown people contending with structural racism in the health care system, and for Black women providing love and strength for each other as they work to change the world.
“You don’t have to be personally affected to care. You just have to be human,” psychologist Alisa Hurwitz, the Ongoing Commitment Award winner, who provides psychotherapeutic care related to pediatric and adolescent endocrinology in Dartmouth Health’s Transgender Health Program, said in a video that accompanied the presentation to her on stage.
It was a theme that was powerfully presented in the keynote address by Dr. Uché Blackstock, the founding CEO of New York-based Advancing Health Equity, which works to dismantle racism in health care and close the gap in racial inequities in health care organizations.
In introducing Blackstock to a crowd of some 150 people at the Hanover Inn and many more watching by livestream, Shontay Delalue, senior vice president and senior diversity officer, said she finds “her truth-telling to be bold, authentic and inspiring.” She embodies “servant leadership, a humble spirit, and a fierce tenacity to insure people who look like us have equitable health outcomes.”
Blackstock’s grandmother was a licensed practical nurse in Brooklyn. Her mother was a physician and first-generation college student who graduated from Harvard Medical School, as did Blackstock and her twin sister, making them Harvard Medical School’s first Black women legacies.
Blackstock talked about how her successful, professional parents could not get a mortgage to buy a house in their neighborhood because redlining kept banks from giving mortgages to Black families, anti-Black covenants allowed by federal programs in the first half of the 20th century kept Black families out of suburbs across the country, and the wealth gap left by these barriers to home ownership continues to the present day.
It is these systematic factors that are the foundation of health inequity that results in higher infant mortality, higher maternal deaths, and lower life expectancy in the Black community today, Blackstock said. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that from 1990 to 2010, there were 1.6 million excess deaths in Black Americans, she said.
“Excess deaths are a way to think about what is expected and what is observed, so 1.6 million more Black people died over that 20-year period than expected, and that equates to 80 million years of life,” Blackstock said. “The way I think about it is graduations, birthday parties, family gatherings—who is missing? That is so profound.”
And while the infant mortality rate among Black children during slavery was higher than it is today, the gap between white infant mortality and Black infant mortality is greater today than it was in the United States before the Civil War, she said.
There is even evidence that barriers to health care access, lower income levels, and poor quality care actually affect the way genes are expressed in Black and Latinx populations, Blackstock said.
“So while race is not biological—it’s a social construct—racism impacts us on a biological level,” she said.
There are models to build clinics and community programs to create health equity, she said. She urged the audience to look at the work of the people honored at this year’s Social Justice Awards.
“We should be amplifying and helping the work of organizations that do work like this,” she said. “So before you leave tonight, I want you to think about what difference will you make.”
2023 Social Justice Awards
After Blackstock’s keynote, Chloe Poston, vice president for culture, belonging, and strategic engagement, introduced the Social Justice Awards program following a video montage of all the winners.
“I am so thrilled to recognize each of the awardees, whose work provides a model for social justice at Dartmouth and in the community,” Poston said.
The Emerging Leadership Award, recognizing individuals who have served less than 10 years in a chosen field of work, went to the Class of 1987 Peace Justice Respect Committee, founded in 2021 by Timothy Parker ’87 and a coalition of classmates—Regina Speed-Bost ’87, Julie Hubble ’87, Peter Murane ’87, Scott Rusert ’87, Holly Silvestri ’87, and Lisa Snyder ’87—to help the class learn about and discuss social justice, including issues of race, racism, gender, class, national origin, sexual orientation, and disability.
Another Emerging Leadership Award went to Josie Pinto, who is currently earning her master’s of public health at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and is the founder of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, a statewide organization that provides financial, emotional, and logistical support to individuals seeking abortion services. Pinto launched the fund in February 2021, helping more than 400 New Hampshire residents access abortion and funding patients from 24 states where abortion access has been restricted since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
The Ongoing Commitment Award went to Hurwitz, who provides psychotherapeutic care related to pediatric and adolescent endocrinology in Dartmouth Health’s Transgender Health Program. Hurwitz, an American Psychological Association-accredited PhD in psychology, works in the field of family therapy and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, with a focus on individuals on the autism spectrum, trauma, and family therapy. Because of the high incidence of gender diversity among people with autism, she says she began to see many transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse patients and recognizes the need for therapists able to work with trans populations.
The Holly Fell Sateia Award, named for the late Holly Fell Sateia, Guarini ’82, vice president emerita for institutional diversity and equity, went to Professor of Earth Sciences Meredith Kelly for her commitment to working with Dartmouth students, especially all graduate students, staff, and faculty to increase diversity in earth sciences and throughout the institution. Kelly, who studies the terrestrial record of past climate change, has ongoing projects in the Americas and East Africa involving field and laboratory research to develop well-dated records of the former extents of glaciers and ice sheets. She also frequently involves students at all levels in her research.
A Lifetime Achievement Award went to physician John “Jack” Turco, who served as medical director of the Dartmouth College Health Service for more than 30 years, and is a professor of endocrinology at the Geisel School of Medicine and the director of the Transgender Health Program. Turco, who joined the faculty of the then-Dartmouth Medical School and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic in 1979, helped develop curriculum to train the next generation of physicians in the care of transgender and gender-diverse patients.
A Student Organization Award went to the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian Students’ Association, founded to build community among students of Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian descent at the Geisel School of Medicine. Currently led by Fatima Haidar, MED ’23, Ahmed El-Hussein, MED ’25, and Omar Sajjad, MED ’26, MENASA is dedicated to addressing the social determinants of health of the local and global communities that its members serve, and instilling in members a passion for becoming culturally competent physicians who learn from and advocate for vulnerable patient populations.
A second Student Organization Award went to the Pi Theta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., which was chartered at Dartmouth in 1985 and continues to uphold the legacy of its 22 founders, who had a vision of sisterhood, service, and academic excellence. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, an historically Black sorority founded at Howard University in 1913, currently has over 1,000 collegiate and alumnae chapters worldwide. The chapter at Dartmouth was recognized for its social justice programming efforts, including educating individuals on the experiences of international students, uplifting marginalized voices, and bringing awareness to voter rights issues within the local community.
At the close of the ceremony, Delalue called it an amazing evening and remarked, “The theme that I heard was ‘find a way.’ Seven people in an alumni class can impact their entire class. A small organization on a campus can impact the entire institution. One person working on trans rights can change the lives of many people, so find a way.”
The event was co-sponsored by Institutional Diversity and Equity, the William Jewett Tucker Center, the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact, the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, Geisel School of Medicine, and the Dartmouth Cancer Center.