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Pitt Med Students Stage 'Die-In' to Protest Racial Injustice

90.5 WESA / Michael Lynch

Dozens of University of Pittsburgh medical students wearing white lab coats and surgical masks lay in the lobby of Scaife Hall Wednesday as part of a national “die-in” to raise awareness of racial injustices.

Students played dead for 4 minutes and 30 seconds to represent the 4 hours and 30 minutes 18-year-old Michael Brown’s body lay in the street after being shot and killed by a white police officer in August in Ferguson, Mo.

Students also chanted “I can’t breathe” 11 times to recognize Eric Garner, who died in July after a New York City police officer placed him in a chokehold. Many students wrote the slogan on the front of their surgical masks.

“As health care providers, we want to let people know that we see what’s happening,” said Kathlene Babalola, a Pitt med student. “We don’t agree with systemic racism.”

In either case, no charges were filed against the officers.

Babalola said racism can be found in all industries, and health care is no different.

“As individuals, we’re always having to reassess how our own biases affect our individual patients,” she said. “Black patients are less likely to receive pain medications for traumatic injuries – half as likely to receive it as white patients are.”

Dan Suter, a Pitt med student who helped organize the event, said racism within the health care industry has economic origins.

“There’s less focus on the need for care in poorer communities because there’s always going to be the drive for money,” he said. “We’re built to care for patients, but the money factor is behind it all as well. And I think when that plays in, poor neighborhoods, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, are the ones who really lose.”

Collin Schenk also helped organize the protest. He said students are calling on police to receive better first-aid training and to be held accountable when they fail to administer proper treatment.

“Like law enforcement, medicine is subject to the inherent cultural biases that affect racial relationships in this country,” he said. “We are standing in front of the problem as future physicians, both advocating for the fair treatment of our black patients by law enforcement and by the medical community.”

Students at more than 50 other medical schools in the U.S. participated in the “die-in.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."