Yale Psychiatry Students Triggered by Lecture Expressing Surprise There Are “Artisanal Coffee Shops” In Rural Ohio
“The language Dr. Satel used in her presentation was dehumanizing, demeaning, and classist toward individuals living in rural Ohio and for rural populations in general.”
A psychiatrist named Sally Satel, who used to be part of the faculty at Yale, gave a guest lecture at the school in January on the opioid crisis with a focus on a town in Ohio.
Shortly afterwards, a letter was sent to the department chair from “Concerned Yale Psychiatry Residents” which claimed her lecture was ‘traumatizing’ and accusing Satel of being a racist.
Last week, Dr. Satel published a column at Quillette decrying the injection of social justice in medicine, and described what happened last January:
On January 8th, 2021, I had my own encounter with intolerance in academic medicine. Via Zoom, I gave a Grand Rounds lecture to the Yale Department of Psychiatry, where I had been a resident for four years and an assistant professor for five. I left New Haven in 1993 to pursue a health policy fellowship in Washington, DC and eventually joined a think tank there, but remained a lecturer in the department. My talk was about the year I spent assisting with treatment efforts in Ironton, a small, embattled town in south-eastern Ohio that was reeling from the opioid crisis.
I discussed the “deaths of despair” phenomenon and showed photos of haunted industrial landscapes and the lonely downtown area. I presented national data on the characteristics of individuals who abused prescription pills and on the frequency with which addiction develops. I talked about the culture of prescribing in rural mining towns and the myriad factors that caused the crisis. I closed by highlighting the heroic efforts of Irontonians to boost the economy and the morale of their beloved town.
One month later, I received an e-mail from the chairman of the department, a fine man and brilliant researcher whom I have known since we were interns together in the 1980s. He admitted that he had not anticipated “the extent of the hurt and offense that folks would take” to my presence. He appended an anonymous complaint that he had received from an unspecified number of “Concerned Yale Psychiatry Residents.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has taken an interest in this case and describes the complaint:
After the talk, however, an unidentified and unenumerated group of “Concerned Yale Psychiatry Residents” sent a letter of complaint to John H. Krystal, chair of the department of psychiatry, objecting not only to the content of Satel’s lecture, but to the idea that Satel, a former assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale who remains a lecturer on the faculty, would be invited to give the address at all:
We, a concerned group of Yale Psychiatry residents, are writing this letter to express our disappointment with the Grand Rounds presentation given on January 8th, 2021 by Dr. Sally Satel. This presentation was given two days after the white supremacist insurrection that occurred at the Capitol and was further traumatizing to us and many of our colleagues.
The language Dr. Satel used in her presentation was dehumanizing, demeaning, and classist toward individuals living in rural Ohio and for rural populations in general. Dr. Satel is known for her highly problematic and racist canon that explicitly blames individuals facing structural inequities for their own health outcomes.
The “dehumanizing, demeaning, and classist” language in question? The letter gives two examples. First, the title: “My Year Abroad: Ironton, Ohio and Lessons from the Opioid Crisis.” Second, the letter mentions a brief, affectionate aside Satel made toward the end of her lecture, highlighting the owner of what she referred to as an “artisanal coffee shop, one I would not expect to find here.” This “dehumanization,” they write, “should never be given a platform in Yale Department of Psychiatry.”
What about that “highly problematic and racist canon?” The students focus their ire on two of Satel’s prior published works in particular. In her 2006 book “The Health Disparities Myth,” Satel and her co-author argue that socioeconomic status and geography factor far more than racial bias in explaining racial disparities in healthcare outcomes, which she does not deny exist. Satel makes a similar argument in another book cited by the residents, “PC, M.D.,” in which she argues that chalking up racial disparities in healthcare to racial bias oversimplifies the problem.
The letter condemns Satel for having “the audacity to challenge Reverend Al Sharpton, an exemplary individual and activist.”
So we’ve got a mention of January 6th, which had absolutely nothing to do with the lecture, followed up by a defense of Al Sharpton.
Does anyone else find the politicization of psychiatry and other forms of medicine disturbing? Then again, this is the school of psychiatry that used to be home to Dr. Bandy Lee. Suddenly, that whole situation makes more sense.
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