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Freedmen's Hospital (c. 1916)

Our Story

Few good things emerge in isolation. This Center is no different. In fact, our co-Executive Directors’ commitment to finding ways to collaborate with each other (and, ultimately with others, too) is at the heart of our story. 

Before Lakshmi founded the Medical Humanities Initiative at Georgetown and before Dana became dean of the Graduate School at Howard, these two humanities scholars shared an interest in literary studies (especially in archives and the histories they uncover), a fascination with storytelling, and high regard for meaningful community engagement. Early conversations about the treasures in Moorland-Spingarn Research Center’s holdings and book projects driven by archival research led to discoveries of other shared interests and experiences. In 2019, Lakshmi participated in the “Disciplines in Dialogue”  series filmed at WHUT as a part of Howard’s Fall Edward A. Bouchet Forum, and the response from viewers was overwhelming. The convergence point, not surprisingly, was an understanding of the ways the humanities can enliven everyday experiences for communities all over the world. 

In retrospect, Dana’s work in Digital Humanities–which helped her think about humanities methodologies and their impact beyond literatures, cultures, and languages–and Lakshmi’s experience as a medical doctor with focused interest in the history of medicine made this collaboration on a medical humanities and health justice center probable if not inevitable. Confident in their shared values and vision of what could be, they leaned into the dissonances– could a partnership between two very different universities really work? – instead of trying to skirt them. 

Our co-Executive Directors knew that a range of things about the partnership they envisioned was true, but only one thing mattered. Georgetown and Howard both have medical schools, health sciences, and undergraduate and graduate programs–fact. Both schools are situated firmly in Washington, DC, geographically and reputationally–fact. A partnership between a predominantly white university and a historically Black university could be as challenging as it could be meaningful–fact. Health disparities in DC disproportionately impact communities of color, especially African American and Latinx communities, negatively–fact. All facts. Then there is the thing that mattered–the humanities can improve healthcare training, delivery, and practice  in ways that enact justice.

Our conversations are as informal as they are academic. We share deeply personal stories of family illness and delays in diagnosis. We revel in the wit, humor, and survival passed on in our communities of care and social networks. We see the cultural, social, and narrative work that the humanities do as alive in the present. This work matters now.  It’s how we talk, how we connect to ourselves and our people. It frames our relationship to the world. Indeed, it opens up new worlds. 

Our story has layers and history. As we grow the Center around the principles of medical humanities and health justice across DC, we know that our approach will depend on the building of that history and those layers of connection. 

That is why we’re building a team of people who aren’t just intellectual superstars. We’re also including partners who are profoundly committed to Washington, DC, and to using our shared values to help create a movement. Indeed, we have degrees in humanities, social sciences, and health, but we are also artists, athletes, community organizers, caregivers, and writers. It’s because we believe that we need multidimensional people and conversations to understand and solve the complex issues of health in the District. 

Learn more about Our Mission, Our Values or Our Team.

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