GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 2

This is a guest post by Rhea Misra, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

In reading “The Black Politics of Eugenics,” I learned about how eugenics was not initially a negative concept. Eugenics relates to the idea of human improvement through reproduction and understanding hereditary. It has been associated with Nazi doctrine; however, Nuriddin brings up in the article that, at one point, eugenics was embraced by marginalized communities to combat scientific racism and improve racial equality. The idea that marginalized communities would embrace eugenics to combat scientific racism, reminds me how slurs and negative concepts are reclaimed by these same communities that are harmed by such things to bring about improvement or change. This article also made me reflect on if eugenics, in the modern times, could ever have a positive association? I am not sure I have an answer to that. On one hand and thinking about the research I conduct, genomic editing tools such as using CRISPR or AAVs to make changes to genome have become commonplace.  Because of the inherent nature of these genetic tools, do they fall under the category of eugenics? They have been used to treat diseases. In a previous course, I had met a patient who had undergone gene therapy to treat his hemophilia, and now no longer requires blood transfusions. But on the other hand, gene editing tools have been used in some cases to make cosmetic edits. The whole idea of human improvement in eugenics comes with deeming certain traits better than the other; thus, marginalizing certain groups of people. Because of the inherent “othering” that comes with eugenics, I can understand how it quickly turned into a negative concept utilized to uphold a racist system rather than breaking it down.

UCSF Archives and Special Collections acquires and makes available the papers of Dr. Michael S. Gottlieb, pioneer HIV/AIDS researcher and clinician

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accesioning Archivist

June 5, 1981 is widely known as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States because it was the day that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the appearance of a cluster of diseases that would later come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Difficiency Syndrome). The report, titled “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles,” was authored by five UCLA doctors: MS Gottlieb, MD, HM Schanker, MD, PT Fan, MD, A Saxon, MD, JD Weisman, DO, of the Division of Clinical Immunology-Allergy at the UCLA Medical Center. The article reports, “In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.”[1] The primary author of this report, Doctor Michael S. Gottlieb – then 33 years old – made history as the person who discovered AIDS.  UCSF Archives & Special Collections is pleased to house Dr. Gottlieb’s archives, which are now processed and available for the first time. 

Photo of Dr. Michael Gottlieb by Elizabeth Nathane, originally published in the Los Angeles Blade

A record of his professional life and accomplishments, as well as the many honors and awards he received over the course of his career, the Michael S. Gottlieb papers contain published papers by Gottlieb and many others on AIDS-related topics. They also include information on various AIDS drug treatment studies (including AZT), professional and personal correspondence, and information about various talks and events attended by Gottlieb during the 1980s – a busy decade for him. They also document his prodigious philanthropic activities and AIDS advocacy.

Gottlieb figures prominently in this UCSF-generated timeline of the AIDS epidemic. The timeline, which begins with the 1981 MMWR report, notes that, in 1985, Rock Hudson – star of classic Hollywood films like Giant, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind – announced that he had AIDS and later died, becoming “the first major celebrity to succumb to the disease.”[1] Later that same year, the timeline reports, “The American Foundation for AIDS Research is founded with the help of movie star Elizabeth Taylor.” Gottlieb, who served as Rock Hudson’s physician from the time of his AIDS diagnosis to his death from the disease, was also one of the founding chairs of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, along with medical researcher Mathilde Krim and Taylor, who was a close friend of Hudson’s and his costar in Giant. The Foundation was established with a $250,000 gift from Hudson’s estate.  The Gottlieb papers also contain a fascinating trove of letters, which he dubbed “Crazy letters,” that he received after becoming publicly associated with Hudson in newspapers and the press. The letters indicate a fascination with the disease, which was still very new and widely misunderstood by the world at large.

If you’re interested in checking out the Michael S. Gottlieb papers, you can consult the finding aid or the library catalog record for the collection. The papers were a gift from Michael Gottlieb.


[1]Center for Disease Control. (1981, June 5). Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/june_5.htm

[2] Cisneros, Lisa. (2021, June 4). 40 Years of AIDS: A Timeline of the Epidemic. UCSF News. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2021/06/420686/40-years-aids-timeline-epidemic


Welcome to Summer Interns May Yuan and Lianne de Leon!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to our two newest summer interns, May Yuan and Lianne de Leon!

May and Lianne are both participating in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Career Pathway Summer Fellowship Program. This six-week program provides opportunities for high school students to gain work experience in a variety of industries and to expand their learning and skills outside of the classroom. Lianne and May will be working (remotely) with the UCSF Industry Documents Library (IDL), and we are grateful to SFUSD and its partners for sponsoring these internships.

May and Lianne will be working on several collection description projects with IDL this summer, including correcting and enhancing document metadata, and creating descriptions for audio-visual materials. They have provided their introductions below.

My name is May Yuan and I’m a junior at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School. During my free time, I enjoy reading, learning and trying new things, and helping others academically. I’m super excited to work here at the UCSF IDL to help provide valuable information to the public as well as learn more about the various documents, lawsuits, etc. myself; I also hope to enhance my productivity and organization skills during my time working here as these skills are crucial to college and everyday life in general. The career paths I’m interested in are bioengineering (bioinformatics/biostatistics), law, and finance.

IDL Summer Intern May Yuan

Hi, my name is Lianne R. de Leon. I am a part of the Class of 2023 at Phillip and Sala Burton High School. In the past, I have worked on VEX EDR Robotics competition in 2018-2019. In my spare time I enjoy trying new foods and yoga. I aspire to become a computer hardware engineer and to travel across the entirety of Asia. I look forward to meeting and working with you all.

IDL Summer Intern Lianne de Leon

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Jackie Roger, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Program in Bioinformatics (BI)

During our class on 5/21, we learned about the term “biopolitics”. After our discussion in class, I wanted to learn more about it and ended up doing some additional reading. Biopolitics, conceptualized by Michel Foucault, is the intersection of life and politics. In practice, it is the governance and control of human life. Many of the topics that we have covered in class can be contextualized within biopolitics.

On 5/17 we talked about forced sterilizations in California prisons. This was a mechanism for controlling who could and could not procreate, and was deeply rooted in white supremacist ideologies. On 5/24 we discussed the hysteria in the 1980s about the “crack baby epidemic” that never ended up happening and had no reasonable scientific basis. There was widespread panic about the possibility of babies born with physical and cognitive disabilities, but little concern about the lack of resources and support for women with substance use disorders. In both of these examples, the focus was on the child-bearing potential of women, and not on the personhood of women. Both forced sterilizations and public hysteria were used to police who should be having children.

On 5/19 we reviewed the Tuskegee syphilis study, and on 5/26 we drew parallels between the racial disparities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the ongoing COVID pandemic. In all three of these examples, the medical system prioritized white lives over black lives. There was significant investment in caring for white patients, while black patients were often neglected or mistreated.

UCSF Library and San Francisco poets create space for the San Francisco community to “Pause, Breathe, and Re-Connect” during the COVID-19 pandemic

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This is a guest post by Dr. Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen, a primary care doctor and researcher at UCSF and the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. 

As social distancing rules and regulations begin to relax, many of us are feeling the strain of prolonged social isolation and re-learning how to reach out to others.

On April 29th, 2021, 48 San Francisco and UCSF community members gathered virtually during the lunch hour on Zoom for a series of poetry readings and discussion centered around the human experience of medicine. Farah Hamade, the inaugural UCSF Library Artist-in-Residence, took visual notes and created an art piece that represents the event and experience (featured below).

Pause, Breath, Re-Connect artwork.
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved

Three poets—Kathleen McClung, Sharon Pretti, and Peggy Tahir—were selected through a submissions process from the San Francisco community to read their work. Sharon Pretti read a series of poems written during and after her brother’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventual death. Kathleen McClung read a sequence of sonnets inspired by her partner and her experiences navigating his treatment and surgery for a pituitary mass.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

Peggy Tahir read a series of poems written for each radiation treatment she underwent for breast cancer. The readings were followed by a 10-second pause to create space for reflection and a rich discussion.

Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen closed the event with a reading from The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, which can be accessed here: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/02/14/sharing-love/.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

The introduction of the event and poetry readings were recorded with the poets’ permission. The recording was turned off for the discussion and closing to create a more comfortable, intimate space. After the event, the poetry reading recording, Farah Hamade’s art piece and a poem by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen was shared with event registrants and the public.

© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

The public can access the recording at the following link: https://archive.org/details/ucsf-pause-breathe-re-connect-poetry-and-discussion-2021-1.

The event was organized by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen, Farah Hamade, Polina Ilieva, and Joanna Kang with support from the UCSF Library.

Welcome to IDL Summer Intern, Khushi Bhat

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to Khushi Bhat, who will be conducting a remote internship with the UCSF Industry Documents Library (IDL) this summer.

Khushi is currently a rising senior at Rutgers University where she is majoring in Biotechnology and minoring in Computer Science. This summer, she is working in the Industry Documents Library researching tools and methods to extract geographic locations from a collection of documents related to the tobacco industry’s influence in public policy.

Khushi will be conducting an independent course project to help the IDL team enhance descriptive metadata for our industry documents collections. We have long been aware of a research need to be able to filter documents by geographic location. Tobacco control researchers and other public health experts at UCSF and around the world use the documents in the Industry Documents Library to understand how corporations impact public health. This research is often used to inform policymakers who write laws and policies regulating the sale and use of products such as tobacco. Researchers and policymakers need information which relates to their local area such as their city, county, state, or country.

Geographic location is not currently included in IDL’s document-level metadata, and since IDL contains more than 15 million documents it is not feasible to manually catalog this information.

Khushi’s work will focus on researching Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Named Entity Recognition (NER) text analysis methods. She will investigate available tools which have the potential to automatically identify and label geographic information in text. Khushi’s research, recommendations, and pilot testing will help the IDL team outline workflows and strategies for enhancing our document metadata to include geographic information.

Khushi aspires to pursue a career in bioinformatics in the future and intends on pursuing higher education in this field upon graduation. In her spare time, Khushi enjoys dancing, baking, and hiking. Prior to joining Rutgers, she was an avid Taekwondo practitioner (and has a 2nd degree black belt to show for it!)

Image of IDL intern Khushi Bhat
IDL Summer Intern Khushi Bhat

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by LauraAnn Schmidberger, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Tetrad Graduate Program

Doctors and other scientists are trained to be precise in how they word their hypotheses, methods, and findings, because they know that precision is important in the fields of medicine and science. However, this accuracy does not seem to follow them as they cross into the social sciences. The article “On Racism: A New Standard For Publishing On Racial Health Inequities” highlights some examples of the careless ways scientists discuss race in their studies.

Scientists often say that “societal factors” may contribute to the health disparities they see in Black communities, but they fail to ask what causes those social disparities—that is, racism. This is like attempting to treat a cancer patient’s pain, fatigue, weight loss, and other symptoms instead of acknowledging that they have cancer and attempting to remedy that root cause.

Similarly, we need to examine and begin to treat the root cause of health disparities. Perhaps Black communities do face more financial stress or lack easy access to healthcare, but these are symptoms of the larger issue of pervasive systemic racism. The article points out that there is an abundance of scholarship (largely by Black authors) on the topic of “how racism shapes conditions germane to racial health inequities.” It is not that scientists don’t have access to this information, but that they choose to ignore it or gloss over it for less accurate and less meaningful conclusions.

I also appreciated the distinction the article offers between different types of racism: “interpersonal, institutionalized, or internalized.” While all racism is structural, it can express itself in different ways that all need to be addressed; we can think of these like different types of cancer which require different treatments. Many cancer patients may benefit from chemotherapy, but knowing where the tumor is might allow it to be removed surgically. Knowing the origin of the racism and how it is perpetuated in a given scenario can give us better tools to eradicate it. For example, interpersonal racism may be combated with education on critical race theory, while institutional racism might require breaking down the old systems built on inequalities (i.e. abolition rather than reform).  

Another example of imprecise language arises from the issue of trust. One of the “social disparities” clinicians often point to is the lack of trust that Black individuals and communities feel for the medical community. However, as the article notes, “assertions that patient mistrust drives disparities obscures the etiologies of racial health inequities and tacitly blames affected patients for their disproportionate suffering.” In other words, saying that Black patients suffer from diseases either more frequently or more severely because they don’t trust doctors to help them is a form of victim-blaming. It is not the Black community that has decided not to trust doctors; it is the medical community that has, through both assaults on and apathy towards Black individuals, actively dismantled any good relationship the two groups might have had.

Issues of mistrust have arisen not because of the one event alone (such as the Tuskegee experiments), but because of both historic and ongoing micro- and macro- aggressions against marginalized groups, and these can only be addressed by addressing their root cause: racism. Largely white medical institutions continue to prove themselves undeserving of the trust of BIPOC communities because they continue to perpetuate racism in a multitude of ways, from continuing to utilize race corrections and other concepts that reify biological theories of race, to repeatedly marginalizing and otherwise failing Black faculty and students. While trust between patient and doctor (as well as patient community and healthcare community) is an important factor to consider, “incessant racial health inequities… reveal less about what patients have failed to feel and more about what systems have failed to do.”

Medicine loves precision. A person does not just have lung cancer, they have non-small cell lung squamous-cell carcinoma, or perhaps pulmonary enteric adenocarcinoma. However, when it comes to understanding the disparities between patients of different races, the desire for exactness seems to disappear and is replaced with hesitant generalizations. This is not unique to science, but appears in many corners of society, especially as discussions of race become more common. However, scientists have the ability to give the topic the accuracy it deserves by becoming familiar with the growing wealth of scholarship on the relationship between racism and health disparities and citing it in our own research. Language matters, and taking more care in our wording as it relates to race and medicine is one simple step to combating racism in the field.

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Karissa Hansen, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Developmental and Stem Cell Biology (DSCB) Program

The readings and conversations in class this week brought forward discussions about how institutions can ensure equitable access and treatment of underrepresented persons in the biomedical professions. The struggles of individuals at each step of this process were highlighted: From early in training during medical school and residency to higher positions of authority at medical institutions. Therefore, extensive changes are not only required at the level of admissions, but also in later career support in hospitals across the country. Despite the conversations that have been reignited in the past year regarding equitable practices, meaningful large-scale change has yet to be seen. Bias in hiring practices accompanied by limited support in part has led to the lack of representation in leadership positions and a reinforcement of such inequities. Moreover, persons of color are often those that are called upon, or volunteer, to expand these efforts at institutions across the country, increasing the burden on these individuals. I feel like I must hold out hope that the education of the current generation of up-and-coming physicians and scientists will lead to such changes as these individuals move into positions of power. It’s hard to be optimistic with such a long road ahead, but the young scientists that I am surrounded by give me hope that we’ll get there.

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Nebat Ali, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

One of the final pieces we read as part of this course was an article by Boyd et al titled “On Racism: A New Standard For Publishing On Racial Health Inequities”. This article encompasses many of the concepts we discussed in class and exemplifies how racism continues to be maintained in our medical and scientific spaces. As the article states, racism is “America’s earliest tradition” and was used as the foundation for all aspects of American society.

As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, there seems to be the misconception that liberal parts of our country are somehow free of these frameworks. This is far from being true, and one can quickly come to this realization by taking a brief look into the history of our institutions.

Fifty years ago, Black employees at UCSF initiated the formation of the Black Caucus- the first affinity-based group established in the UC-system- in order to protest the racist policies and mistreatment they faced at UCSF. Members of the Black Caucus coined The Medical Center at Parnassus “The Plantation on the Hill” due to the discriminatory practices they faced in the workplace (reference linked below). As a united voice the Black Caucus demanded for the improvement of their working conditions and for their fair treatment. In addition, they also fought strongly to advocate for the recruitment and retention of Black students at UCSF. When I casually walk through the halls of my building or sit and have lunch in the cafeteria, I’m often reminded that only fifty years ago Black and Brown UCSF employees didn’t have the right to freely navigate through campus the way that I do. The strikes and protests organized by the Black Caucus were transformative, and while their impacts are still felt today there is still a long road ahead in order to dismantle the systems of oppression these institutions were built on. Within our own communities in San Francisco, we are witnessing and experiencing some of the most alarming disparities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

I have a vivid memory of a discussion that took place in a microbiology course I was taking early in the pandemic that revolved around genetic predispositions to severe COVID-19 infections. It was even more troubling to see subsequent studies that additionally failed to assert the contributions of racism in the prevention, detection, and treatment of COVID-19 infection. As we discussed through some of our previous readings, studies like these result in both the erasure of systemic racism’s impact on health as well as the large numbers of Black scholars who specialize in this area of research. Some of the recommendations provided by the Boyd et al article will be critical in improving the practices in scientific research that ultimately contribute to this. In the case of the pandemic, I always find myself wondering how beneficial NIH funds could have been if they were redirected to provide care to highly impacted Black and Brown communities instead of being used to do poor research and/or research that is only tangentially related to the virus. In order to begin repairing the damage that’s been done, it will additionally be important to consider how federal funds are allocated to agencies like the NIH and CDC. Improper allocation of funds to these agencies can sequester money away from developing sustainable care programs in underserved communities and subsequently direct them to research practices that only reinforce racism in science and medicine.

GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 2

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This is a guest post by Eliza Gaylord, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Developmental and Stem Cell Biology (DSCB) Program

What you publish in science is soaked in opinion – regardless of the objectivity it tries to maintain. What you publish in science is accessible forever – regardless of the truth it holds. And if science is opinion, and science is accessible forever, then by definition of the mathematical transitive property of equality, opinion-based published literature perpetuates throughout the years and is treated as fact simply due to its accessibility to read and cite. However, just because something was published does not mean it is sound or accurate. What are the consequences when this undying nature intrinsic to publication is mixed with ‘bad’ science, written to immortalize the author’s opinion instead of biological truth? One familiar example is Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s work published over two decades ago where he wrongfully claimed that the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine caused autism in children. Despite the retraction of his paper, multiple lawsuits, and the uncovering of conflicts of interest that inspired his original piece, thousands of individuals across the world still believe in his work over twenty years later and put their children at risk by refusing to vaccinate them out of the false fear of developing autism.

Though the harmful consequences from this specific example have only persisted 20 some years, another harrowing example of fabricated and harmful science has persisted for over a century: the collection of work centered on identifying physical racial differences. These studies relied upon the torture and robbery of Black people’s bodies and highlighted false ideologies of biological differences between the races to justify slavery and perpetuate racism. And doctors still reference and support these false beliefs to this day, many ignorant to the racist history that gave rise to the findings. These works are dangerous to the Black community, as they ensure implicit bias, inferior medical treatment, and structural racism will persist in the American health care system. Like the Wakefield study, a first step toward improving the Black experience in American medicine demands the identification and retraction of these false and dangerous studies. But beyond the retraction of these works, medical education programs must incorporate coursework to actively discuss and condemn these racist ideologies and the fabricated works that support them.