By Jay Stanton
Earlier this June, I spent one Thursday reminiscing about my time as a student at the University of Chicago and being both pleased and horrified at some of the changes that have been made on campus in recent months. The previous day, nine activists were participating in peaceful civil disobedience, calling on President Robert Zimmer to discuss a list of demands for the University of Chicago to help solve the trauma center desert crisis on the South Side.
Instead of pursuing its ordinary tactics of ignoring protesters until they get tired, or superficially meeting demonstrators’ demands to meet with high-level administrators while not making any changes as a result, the university enlisted the help of the city fire and police departments to extricate and arrest the activists. They have been charged with serious misdemeanor charges that have the potential to result in jail time. All non-student activists have been banned from campus. These charges can only be meant to punish and intimidate them and the rest of us into silence about the refusal of the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) to open a trauma center. In order to encourage the free expression of ideas, the University should drop the charges immediately.
TAKE ACTION NOW:
1. Sign this petition calling on the University of Chicago to drop charges against the nine trauma center protesters.
2. Join the protesters in court on July 10th. Details and RSVP in the above petition.
3. Write an email to president Zimmer expressing your concern for the University’s actions and the lack of a trauma center.
But here’s the bigger question: why is the U of C singling out trauma center activists? To answer, I start with examining what is so different about this issue than others the University has dealt with in the past:
1. Community activists, as well as students, faculty, staff, and alumni are involved. The university has shown at best a dismissive, and at worst what looks like a racist response to the Black youth raising their voices.
2. UCMC previously operated an adult Level 1 Trauma Center and closed it due to monetary issues. The Affordable Care Act has changed that.
3. UCMC is in a moral tight spot, entangled in excuses which are being shown to be hollow.
4. UCMC knows that due to pressure it must open a trauma center at some point and does not want to look like its motivation is outside pressure.
On Thursday at the Prayers for a Trauma Center vigil, we gathered to show solidarity with our arrested sisters and brothers and to call out the university on its refusal to open a trauma center. We recounted the facts: that the university already has the capacity to create a trauma center; that people, many of them black men ages 16-24, are dying because of the lack of a trauma center on the South Side; and that the university’s continued inaction makes it complicit in those deaths. We marveled that there was no evidence of the university’s violent actions the previous day: the walls and windows that the University had destroyed were in perfect condition, and there wasn’t so much as a shard of broken glass to indicate the university’s excessive use of force.
Our coalition is gaining power. In addition to winning widespread support from local and national politicians, the pediatric Level I Trauma Center raised its age limit for patients from 15 to 17. A few short months after declaring it would never open an adult trauma center, UCMC is conducting its own feasibility study on opening a trauma center. We have put the University on the defensive, having to come up with excuse after excuse for why they won’t do the right thing. I am proud to have been able to take part in these Alumni Weekend protests.
The sages taught: The one who destroys one life: it is as if she has destroyed an entire world. And the one who saves one life: it is as if she has saved an entire world. The early rabbis were discussing progeny, but as a University of Chicago alumnus, I would add that this also implies the world of ideas a person discovers and develops over the course of a lifetime. In Jewish tradition, this value of saving a life is a paramount one, beyond price or convenience. For this reason, I am proud the JCUA is part of the Trauma Care Coalition, and I am proud to be a JCUA member. I look forward to seeing you as we continue to fight for justice.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you are a member of the University of Chicago community, your voice is particularly important. Write President Zimmer and ask that the charges against the arrested activists be dropped. Remind our university president that “civil discourse” may only exist if a discourse exists in the first place. Silencing and intimidating activists does not encourage thoughtful dialogue. Ask that community input be included in the internal feasibility study.
If, like me, you are a University of Chicago alum, I encourage you to show your love for your alma mater by advocating for a trauma center now. Next time someone from the telefund or major gifts calls, ask how you can earmark your donation to opening an adult Level 1 Trauma Center at UCMC. Say you are knowledgeable about the trauma center desert on the South Side and that you know UCMC is in an ideal position both in terms of resources and in terms of geographical location, reducing the distance to the nearest trauma center to less than 5 miles over more than 90% of the South Side. Reiterate that the lack of trauma care affects everybody. Say you care about having a trauma center because you know Black Lives Matter and you know that the Platonic ideal of our alma mater knows that too. Make it clear that those Black lives could be the next contributors to the universe of great ideas. Explain that UCMC could benefit from establishing a trauma center not only by avoiding bad press but by having and teaching the best trauma care. Help eliminate every excuse the university is using to perpetuate an inequitable health care system.
If you aren’t a member of the University of Chicago community, here are some ways you can help the JCUA and the Trauma Care Coalition end the trauma center desert on the South Side.
- Sign this petition calling on the University of Chicago to drop charges against the nine trauma center protesters.
- Join the protesters in court on July 10th. Details and RSVP in the above petition.
- Write an email to president Zimmer expressing your concern for the University’s actions and the lack of a trauma center at firstname.lastname@example.org.