A Safe Space for Uncomfortable Conversation

Last week, PAEA hosted a Student Town Hall focused on racial injustice. The town hall was an opportunity for students to share their stories, experiences, and feelings on the racism that continues to pervade the fabric of the country. PAEA’s goal in hosting the event was to provide a safe space where students could discuss and process their true feelings about not only the atrocities that have occurred over the past few weeks but about racial discrimination in general. The overwhelming turnout, which exceeded Zoom’s limit of 1,000 attendees per session, is just one indicator of students’ need for conversation, connection, and community.

The virtual gathering was led by PAEA President Howard Straker, EdD, MPH, PA-C, who shared his own struggles with racism, both personal and professional. Dr. Straker was joined by a panel comprised of PA student and faculty leaders who helped to get the conversation started: Daytheon Sturges, MPAS, PA-C, chair of PAEA’s Diversity and Inclusion Mission Advancement Commission; Mary Ruggeri, MEd, PAEA’s student Board member at large and a graduate of the 2020 class of the Yale Online PA program; and students Edmund Smith, Morehouse School of Medicine; Jessica Veale, Duke University PA program; and Delilah Dominguez, Quinnipiac PA program comprised the panel.

The vulnerability, courage, and leadership that the students demonstrated while sharing their testimonies was nothing short of profound. That evening, our students were our teachers, and the raw, emotional conversation was a critical and meaningful learning experience. Many PA students are hurting, and the need for time, space, and dedicated support to process not only the horrendous events of George Floyd’s killing, but their own past experiences as well. Several students shared first-hand encounters with racism while on clinical rotations, citing preceptors and even patients participating in racist rhetoric and actions. Students of color shared how they have been silently shouldering encounters with racism and bias while meeting the demands and rigor of PA school.

The town hall illuminated a deep desire to continue conversations and create opportunities for dialogue with their peers and program officials. Students offered important solutions for creating a more inclusive culture and safer learning environments. Most notably, they want swift and public acknowledgment when events like the killing of George Floyd occur. They want platforms and spaces to express their feelings and beliefs. They want time to process and heal. They want change and advocacy. And above all else, they want to know that the people in whose hands their careers as PAs rest care and are listening and responsive.

PAEA encourages all PA programs to prioritize conversations on racial injustice with their students. As we learned from the town hall, silence is painful and leads to increased feelings of isolation and marginalization. PAEA is committed to providing a safe space for students and will host another Student Town Hall on Racial Injustice on Thursday, June 18, from 7:30–9:00 p.m. ET. Due to exceeding the limit of maximum participants from the previous call, we ask that faculty refrain from registering to allow space for student participation. PA students may register for the next Town Hall via Zoom.