© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Student group restarts Palestine health equity events after UT Health SA cut sponsorship

The flier for the San Antonio Healthcare Workers for Palestine February webinar event on pregnancy in the Palestinian Territories.
San Antonio for Health Care Workers in Palestine
The flier for the San Antonio Healthcare Workers for Palestine February webinar event on pregnancy in the Palestinian Territories.

Students at UT Health San Antonio relaunched their Health Equity in Palestine Harvard Medical School webinar series after UT Health SA’s Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics ended its sponsorship of the events in December.

University leadership said at the time that they felt a student organization was the appropriate entity to host the events, though some internal communication between a member of faculty and an organizing student showed concerns over the “complex” and “divisive” nature of the topics.

So students founded a new student organization on campus, San Antonio Healthcare Workers for Palestine, and organized the events on their own. They held the first of the renewed series in February titled “Pregnancy and Birth under Siege and at Checkpoints,” and have an event planned each month from March through May.

One of the founders of the organization, a fourth-year medical student, said setting up the organization and getting the events approved and scheduled took months. TPR is not using the student’s name over their fear it could harm their career.

They said they didn’t believe the university intentionally hamstrung their efforts or limited the kind of content they wanted to focus on, but that the bureaucracy was its own.

“It’s led to this system of them having to review everything, screen everything, and approve everything, even just the fliers,” the student said. “So even with the student org model, it’s in and of itself very controlling and feels honestly [like] a form of censorship.”

UT Health SA declined TPR's request for comment.

Graham Piro, a program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s Campus Advocacy Team, said he was glad to see that the university hadn’t prevented students from organizing their own events. But he was also concerned over how the university ended its sponsorship of the series in December.

“The university appears to have decided to sponsor these three events with the students and then withdrew its sponsorship after the first event, apparently, at least in some measure, because of the potential for harms coming from these conversations,” Piro said. “And that's not conducive to an environment of free expression on campus.”

UT Health San Antonio said the events would be better suited if registered student organizations held them, but the medical student who helped organize the event says she was told the series was too 'complex' and 'divisive.'

The medical student organizer said now that the student organization exists, they want to use it in more ways than just hosting these events. But they are still figuring out what that might look like.

They said they were grateful the events were finally happening.

“I think we’re ultimately happy that we’re able to do them again,” they said. “And we hope that, you know, people will come out and take part in the education that we’re offering people, But I think there’s still a long way to go.”

The medical student said they were disappointed in the university’s decision to continue to ignore demands they brought to the university president in October, when the first discussions about the Harvard webinar series arose.

“There's still a lot of potential for what the administration could be doing and what they should be doing as an institution dedicated to health equity,” the medical student said. “I think their stance, and then kind of what happened in the past couple months, has contributed to creating a hostile and unwelcome environment for a lot of its students. Not just its Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim students, but students who may not be directly affected and also feel moved by what's happening.”

The next event will be held on March 26 and is titled “The Plight of the Palestinian Child and the State of Critical Pediatric Care.”

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.