More than an Ally: Building Community, Expanding Opportunities

Alison Alpert '14
uvmmedicine blogger Alison Alpert ’14

Dr. Elizabeth Bonney tells me: “You have to fight to learn. Your community is depending on you.” Tiffany Delaney tells me: “I’ve learned so much from you.” Dr. Margaret Tandoh has fastened a rainbow pin to her white coat, as though being a surgeon wearing a rainbow pin is effortless. Lately, I have been presenting my qualitative research regarding what LGBTQI patients think doctors should know and be able to do to take care of them. This research is meant to be the springboard for curricular assessment and development.   In other words, I am attempting to reduce health disparities in LGBTQI communities via patient-directed interventions in medical education.

Before each presentation, the words of these women are with me. They remind me of how much is possible and how important it is to fight for what I believe.

When I look around the room at Dean’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Inclusion meetings lately, I realize that these women and the others in the room may be the people I will miss the most when I leave the University of Vermont College of Medicine. They are my mentors, the people who quietly, patiently go about the day-to-day work of creating change that will result in more justice and better health care for the communities that most need it. This work includes making strides toward recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, staff, and student body, and ensuring that all the doctors graduating from the College are trained to reduce health care disparities in marginalized communities.

I was impressed and excited that Dr. Tandoh, Tiffany Delaney, and Dr. Bonney won the Outstanding Club Advisor Award from the UVM ALANA Center for their work with the Minority Association of Premedical Students (MAPS). Their work to support and mentor undergraduate students of color and other underrepresented students who are interested in careers in medicine and dentistry is a creative, thoughtful way to increase diversity and inclusion at the College of Medicine. Beyond those things, their work with undergraduates is caring and has a depth of integrity I hope to emulate in my life and career.

Months ago, I was lucky enough to attend a MAPS meeting and meet the smart, thoughtful students who are spearheading efforts to increase opportunities for underrepresented students to attend medical and dental school. In addition to feeling inspired, I felt something I hadn’t expected in that room, something that must be akin to what I’ve heard others describe as the feeling they have when they go home.

Working with Dr. Bonney, Tiffany Delaney, and Dr. Tandoh, I have learned about building alliances, community, and friendship across varying experiences and histories of oppression and struggle. The support I feel from them and attempt to give them goes beyond what I think people mean when they use the word “ally.” More than feeling that I am an ally to them or that they are allies to me, I feel that together we are part of a community. From them, I have learned about the deep love and safety that is built in struggle. I can only hope to make them proud going forward and give to others what they have given to me and the other medical students and undergraduates they work with: inspiration, role-modeling, and hope.

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