Fall 2022 Newsletter

Washington University in St. Louis

Medical Humanities Minor


A letter from the Director, Rebecca Messbarger


Dear Medical Humanities Community,


2021-22 was an eventful year for the undergraduate program in Medical Humanities. As a course of study that brings the insights of the arts and humanities to bear on medical practice, Medical Humanities captured in extraordinary ways the historic experience of Covid that we are living and the necessary interpretative power of the humanities to make sense of this time. Covid was a vital touchstone in Medical Humanities courses, student projects, and such extracurricular programming as the Covid Archive led by past director Corinna Treitel, and the Requiem of Light Memorial for the 5,000 citizens in Greater STL lost to Covid 19 that I produced with the involvement of leading lights in our STL community and amazing student volunteers. We invite you to peruse our website, which features a welcome to new students from our undergraduate ambassador Grace Dekoker, student projects, faculty and student profiles, and select programmatic initiatives: https://humanities.wustl.edu/medical-humanities-minor


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The Requiem of Light Memorial around the Grand Basin at Art Hill


With the relaxation of distance learning and other Covid restrictions, our Medical Humanities community was able to gather again and to grow significantly, with our student body doubling over the course of the academic year. Our dynamic student advisors-- Noor Ghanam, Grace Dekoker, and Katharine Niles-- spearheaded outreach efforts to recruit new students and to connect and celebrate our current student community. There is no better proof of the value of this course of study than the testimony of our graduating seniors. Here is a selection of what some of our seniors had to say at our Senior Recognition Ceremony in May about the significance of Medical Humanities for them:


Noor Ghanam: “The med hum minor has been my favorite experience at WashU… I learned that medicine is a deeply justice-oriented and humanistic field.”

Kiara Mallory: “I came to WashU premed and went straight to the med school to do research in immunology.… I was studying cells and bodies, but [Medical Humanities] taught me to look at the whole human being.”

Alicia Yang: “My question coming into college was how am I supposed to ‘take into my arms a patient and a family that have disintegrated’ because of illness? (….) Medical Humanities helped me answer that question [and taught me about] the importance of language for patient’s understanding of their illness and my understanding of my own humanity.” 


Congratulations to our Class of 2022 Med Hum graduates! Celebrating Kiara Mallory, Zoe Hancock, Noor Ghanam, Auriann Sehi, Alicia Yang, and Josephine Moten


This year, we added to our current disciplinary clusters a thematic focus on Medicine, Race and Ethnicity, and expanded our core curriculum to include, among other courses:

  • Prof. Sowande' Mustakeem’s Women and Crime in the Evolution of American History
  • Prof. Geoff Ward’s Histories of Racial Violence, Legacies and Reckonings, and
  • Prof. Shanti Parikh’s The AIDS Epidemic: Inequalities, Ethnography, and Ethics.

In conjunction with the production by the Black Repertory Theater of Charly Evon Simpson’s “Behind the Sheet,” Medical Humanities co-sponsored with AFAS a panel discussion on the legacy of racist and racialized medicine in the realm of obstetrics and gynecology. With many members of the WashU and great STL community in attendance, Director Ron Himes joined Professor of Sociology Hedwig Lee, Professor of History Sowande' Mustakeem, Dr. Dineo Khabele, Chair of OBGYN at Washington University School of Medicine, and Yolanda Wilson, Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University’s Gnaegi Center of Healthcare Ethics to discuss pressing issues raised by the play’s fictional retelling of Dr. J. Marion Sims’ harrowing experimental surgeries on the “Mothers of Gynecology,” enslaved Black women exploited to find a cure for obstetric fistula.


This year also saw new opportunities approved for medical humanities students to study in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Chile, and Kings College London.


Although we have barely begun the new academic year, there has been a swirl of interest in Medical Humanities. Approximately two hundred students attended the Bear Beginnings Med Hum orientation sessions and many students have already declared the minor.


Programming this year will include the launch by our student ambassador Grace Dekoker of Coffee Chats. Invited faculty speakers will give 10-minute talks on a range of subjects relevant to medical humanities, followed by questions, conversation, and refreshments. See the announcement below for information on the first of our Coffee Chats on October 17 at 7:30 p.m. with Dr. Jennifer Arch of the English Department. All are welcome!



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I would also like to put on your radar the Forum on Medicine Race and Ethnicity in St Louis, Past to Future, that will be hosted by Medical Humanities on February 24, 2023. Presenters include, among others, Ezelle Sanford III, Assistant Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University and Visiting Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University; David Serlin, Professor of Social Science, Critical Gender Studies, the Interdisciplinary Group in Cognitive Science in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego; Dineo Khabele, MD, the Mitchell & Elaine Yanow Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine; and James McAnally, co-founder and Executive Director of The Luminary and founder and Artistic Director of Counterpublic. Students who would like to be involved, please reach out to me, rmessbar@wustl.edu. We will update you as event details solidify.


It is going to be an exciting year! We are grateful for all members of our community and ask that you keep us apprised of your endeavors and achievements so that we may feature them on our website.


Wishing you a great semester,


R. Messbarger




Community News

Student News and Outreach


Angela Chen, Medical Humanities student and Co-Creator of Grounded: The Pandemic Archive, invites members of our community to take part in Health Righters, an intercollegiate publication aiming to uplift marginalized voices and highlight current events in healthcare. Follow @healthrighters on social media and visit their website to learn about their past and upcoming collaborations and events. For questions, concerns, or submitting work, email healthrighters@gmail.com.


Grace Dekoker, a senior in Medical Humanities and one of the MedHum student ambassadors, was part of the 2022 Northwestern Pre-Med Internship Cohort. She worked in the Urology department and conducted two clinical research projects (one of which culminated in a poster). Her project focused on prostate cancer and the accuracy of the PI-RADS framework as a predictor for clinically significant cancer. This class drew on a lot of knowledge she gained taking Dr. Plutynski’s Philosophy of Medicine in the spring, and she was able to apply the base of something she learned in a medical humanities course to real patient interactions and the process of a cancer diagnosis. She was also able to shadow her physician mentor and so was in patient rooms gaining firsthand experience in both clinic and OR settings. She shadowed in other specialties as well, and ger favorites were Obstetrics and Gynecology, Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, Endocrinology, and Urology.


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Grace Dekoker with the poster for her clinical research project


Student Work Spotlight

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“The Metaphorical Virus” (May 2020) by Angela Chen, Class of 2023, is a visual representation of metaphors in the COVID-19 pandemic, where subjective judgments follow the objective virus in its shadows. Chen is a writer and illustrator for Frontiers and is majoring in biochemistry.