Event Recaps | 19 April 2023

“Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine” Sawyer Seminar


Over the 2022-23 academic year, THI administered the Mellon Sawyer Seminar “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine.” This Seminar brought a host of scholars to campus to explore the intersections of race, empire, and the environment, and their significance in the theory, practice, and structure of American biomedicine.

The Principal Investigators (PIs) of this Sawyer Seminar are Jennifer Derr (Associate Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz) and Jennifer Reardon (Professor of Sociology and the Founding Director of the Science and Justice Research Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz). Maya Peterson, an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz who died in childbirth in June 2021, was also a co-PI for this project. The Seminar also includes postdoctoral scholar Anila Daulatzai and Graduate Fellows Aaron Aruck (PhD Candidate, History) and Juliana M. Nzongo (PhD Candidate, Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology).

Below are recordings from three of our visiting scholars.

Karina Walters – Transcending Historical Trauma (April 19, 2023)

Throughout history, settler colonialism has endeavored to erase the lived experiences and histories of American Indian and Alaska Native Peoples. Yet, Indigenous populations, particularly Indigenous women, remain strong and resilient pillars of communities. Oftentimes these [her]stories are missed in public health initiatives as a result of settler colonialism’s perpetual drive to erase and silence. In this talk, Dr. Walters will explore the latest advances in designing culturally derived, Indigenist health promotion interventions among American Indian and Alaska Native women. The talk will describe the indigenist methodological innovations utilized in the NIH funded Yappalli Choctaw Road to Health, a culturally focused, land-based obesity and substance abuse prevention program as well as the national multi-site Honor Project Two-Spirit Health Study. Consistent with tribal systems of knowledge, both studies illustrate the importance of developing culturally derived health promotion interventions rooted in Indigenist thoughtways and land-based practices to promote Indigenous thrivance and community well-being.

Dr. Karina L. Walters (MSW, PhD) is the recently appointed Director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institute of Health. She is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a Katherine Hall Chambers University Professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, and an adjunct Professor in the Department of Global Health, School of Public Health, and Co-Director of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute (IWRI) at the University of Washington. Dr. Walters is world renowned for her expertise in developing behavioral and multi-level health interventions steeped in culture to activate health-promoting behaviors. She has written landmark papers on traumatic stress and health, historical and intergenerational trauma, and originated the Indigenist Stress-Coping model. She has led 22 NIH-funded studies, is one of the leading American Indian scientists in the country, and is only one of two American Indians (and the only Native woman) ever invited to deliver the prestigious Director’s lecture to the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS) at the NIH. She is the first American Indian Fellow inductee into the American Academy of Social Welfare and Social Work (AASWSW).

Alberto Ortiz-Díaz – Carceral Care: Health Professionals and the Living Dead in Colonial Puerto Rico’s Sanitary City, 1920s-1940s (November 2, 2022)

Using an array of primary sources, this talk explores the early history of the Río Piedras sanitary city or medical corridor, a transnationally and imperially inspired built environment and complex of welfare institutions (a tuberculosis hospital, an insane asylum, and a penitentiary) constructed and consolidated on the margins of San Juan by Puerto Rico’s colonial-populist state between the 1920s and 40s. Within and across these institutional spaces, health professionals contributed to the production of medicalized scientific knowledge and cared for and socially regulated racialized, pathologized Puerto Ricans. Penitentiary “living dead” (incarcerated people), in particular, were subjected to research and received treatment, but also provided health labor that put them at risk while powering the sanitary city and nurturing its inhabitants. Crucially, however, some prisoners managed to exploit the unthinkable openness of the complex, revealing in the process that the living dead could only be buried alive for so long.

Dr. Alberto Ortiz Díaz is an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas, Arlington, and currently a Larson Fellow at the Kluge Center, Library of Congress. His first book, Raising the Living Dead: Rehabilitative Corrections in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, is forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press in March 2023.

Tahir Amin – Intellectual Property Wars: The Battle for Access to Medicines (October 18, 2022)

The globalization of intellectual property in the 1980s has coincided with some of the deadliest pandemics, epidemics, and outbreaks, from HIV, hepatitis C, SARS, and recently COVID -19. Tahir Amin will take us through his and his organization’s journey over two decades fighting the ever-growing intellectual property systems being pushed by the US, EU, and pharmaceutical companies that are blocking affordable access to medicines for billions of low-income populations around the world. 

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Derr introduced the Sawyer Seminar “Race, Empire, and the Environments of Biomedicine” and the speakers. Tahir Amin then delivered his presentation, “Intellectual Property Wars.” After Amin’s presentation, Amin and ProPublica journalist Anna Barry-Jester engaged in a lively discussion. Community members and UC Santa Cruz faculty and students then asked Amin provocative questions about medical inequalities and intellectual property.

Tahir Amin, LL.B., Dip. LP., is a founder and executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK), a nonprofit organisation working to address structural inequities in how medicines are developed and distributed. He has over 25 years of experience in intellectual property (IP) law, during which he has practised with two of the leading IP law firms in the United Kingdom and served as IP Counsel for multinational corporations. His work focuses on re-shaping IP laws and the related global political economy to better serve the public interest, by changing the structural power dynamics that allow health and economic inequities to persist.

Amin and I-MAK have also put out a 10 point plan for the Biden-Harris administration to bring equity into the patent system, and their work is highlighted in the New York Times Editorial Board’s recent endorsement of patent reform. He is a former Harvard Medical School Fellow in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine and TED Fellow. Amin has served as legal advisor/consultant to many international groups, including the European Patent Office and World Health Organization, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on intellectual property and unsustainable drug price.

Anna Maria Barry-Jester is a public health reporter with ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization. Previously, she was a senior correspondent covering public health at Kaiser Health News. Her series “Underfunded and Under Threat,” with colleagues at KHN and The Associated Press, investigated how chronically underfunded public health departments buckled under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic. The project won awards from the Online News Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her reporting on harassment and menacing threats endured by public health officials was the basis of an episode of “This American Life,” and PEN America later awarded its PEN/Benenson Courage Award to the officials she profiled. A multimedia journalist, Barry-Jester has lived and worked in Latin America and Southeast Asia, where she has reported, photographed and filmed stories in more than a dozen countries. Before Kaiser Health News, she was a writer at FiveThirtyEight and a producer at Univision and ABC News. She has a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, where she focused on epidemiology and global health.

Here’s a full list of our invited speakers and information about their talks:

FALL 2022