Declaration of racism as public health crisis remains priority for USG’s rally

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Valeriu Gheorghita, the head of Romania’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign administers the third dose booster Pfizer vaccine shot to Dr. Adrian Marinescu, the medical director of the Matei Bals hospital in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. Romania reported 11049 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hour interval, the highest ever daily number since the start of the pandemic. (Photo by Andreea Alexandru/AP Photos)

On Wednesday, Oct. 6th at 12 p.m., the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), along with six other student organizations at the University of Connecticut, will be hosting a walkout and protest on the Student Union Lawn called Rally for a Peaceful Planet.  

The student-led walkout is the first of its kind and specific to UConn. However, several college campuses across the United States are expected to follow UConn and host their own protests at the same time, according to Irene Soteriou, fifth-semester statistics and cognitive science major and USG speaker of the senate and UConn Human Rights Symposium president.  

“To our knowledge, this will be the first time that the UConn community will come out in such numbers to advocate for peace since the anti-war movement of the ‘60s,” Soteriou said. The rally consists of three main foci: abolishing the 1033 program, removing refugee caps and declaring racism a public health crisis.  

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, UConn Interim President Dr. Andrew Agwunobi responded to the USG’s third demand in a public statement to the UConn community, declaring racism a public health crisis.  

“We at UConn applaud and agree with the state’s declaration of racism as a public health crisis in Public Act 21-35,” Agwunobi said in his statement. “We are glad that our Undergraduate Student Government asked that we follow the state in declaring racism a public health crisis and we are happy to do so.”  

Agwunobi mentioned in his statement that implicit bias training will continue to be implemented for UConn John Dempsey Hospital’s staff members. The statement also claims that a Director of Health Equity & Access to Care position has been created at Student Health and Wellness, with the role of advising all areas of health on adopting equity- and inclusion-related practices.  

Additionally, the university has “created a task force to review the model of care on our regional campuses and make recommendations on how we can enhance access to services for students on our regional campuses,” according to the statement.  

Although UConn has officially declared racism a public health crisis in the state of Connecticut, the third focus of the rally has not yet been accomplished, according to Soteriou.  

“While this is an excellent first step, and one that we wholeheartedly stand behind, the rally has always been, and will continue to be, focused on declaring racism as a public health crisis here at the University of Connecticut,” Soteriou said. “The difference is that by focusing specifically on our university, we can work closely with administration to develop and implement the subsequent policies and programs that can tangibly address the barriers that students in our immediate community face.”  

Since some progress has been made toward the rally’s goal of declaring racism a public health crisis, the USG is currently prioritizing reform of the 1033 program and relaxation of refugee caps, according to Soteriou.  

“[In regard to the rally’s first two foci,] We will be turning predominantly to our representatives, and particularly to our governor, to heed our call and join us in channeling this movement into fundamental social change,” Soteriou said.  

Students are asked to bring posters and wear black clothing to the rally. The color choice symbolizes the rally’s connection to the Black Lives Matter movement.  

“The BLM movement is in many ways intrinsically linked to peace, and a lack thereof, in our global communities,” Soteriou said. “Each of the three common-sense steps that the rally proposes can be applied to the scope of the BLM movement.”  

Another reason for the color choice is that many students already own black clothing.  

“We are also recommending black because from a sustainability-and-accessibility standpoint, black tends to be a color of clothing that the majority of people own,” Soteriou added.  

Soteriou noted that the USG appreciates the ongoing support from UConn’s administration regarding the rally and its three foci.  

“We are incredibly fortunate to attend a university where the administration is not only willing but excited to empower and partner with students, and we hope to model this path of student-administrator solidarity for other campuses that may choose to follow in our footsteps.”

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