Say Something, Do Something
The national, political news has been difficult to ignore in recent times. Most of us steer clear of overt political statements for or against particular individuals, parties, movements or even issues unless they step directly into our areas of expertise and concern. In fact, many of us have tended to actually ignore the noise and try to detect the signal as Joe Scarborough’s opinion piece (June 3, 2019) and Nate Silver’s 2012 book suggest. There are times, however, when it seems that ignorance of or ignoring pronouncements can influence what we do. Some of these need to be confronted.
A recent article in the Washington Post by Joe Davidson (August 5, 2019) reminded me once again of our duty to our students. We cannot let them be influenced by destructive language. By way of background, I had read the headlines regarding the political attack on the “congresswomen of color” who were encouraged to “go back” to their ancestral countries of origin. This resulted in charges of racism and a vigorous defense indicating that it had nothing to do with race but more about deflecting criticism and the legitimate need for fixing problems in other countries. It was a typical point, counterpoint with no apparent resolution or consequence that many tended to ignore from a professional stance. It would soon be eclipsed by some other concern or tragedy. The article reminded me, however, that the language being used and particularly the “go back” portion would not be tolerated in the work setting. In particular, the settings that our students would soon be working in. This message (noise) must not be received and used by healthcare leadership (our graduates) to justify, ignore or even to allow similar wording in the healthcare or any other workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits and has prosecuted cases in which employers engaged in or allowed such language (see the Davidson article for some examples).
Well, you think, the current application of these words are not in an employer/employee situation thus not under the purview of EEOC. We have separate executive and legislative branches of government thus EEOC does not apply. That is true but all the more important to raise the concern. There will be no official legal recourse as a result of these words thus they can easily become a part of the way some individuals think and act. Our graduates must be made aware that these and similar words will not be tolerated in the workplace.
Another caveat involves the invocation of free speech rights. Like all in our country, our executive leaders have constitutionally protected rights of expression of opinion. This is the very steep and slippery slope of what is protected under the free speech umbrella. The Supreme Court has protected most all forms of what many would call “hate speech” unless it is “direct, personal, and either truly threatening or violently provocative.” Actually most identify nine categories of speech not protected (obscenity, fighting words, defamation, child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats and solicitations to commit crimes). Most everyone, and even elected officials, have the constitutional right of expression. Consequently, we must impress upon our students that, while allowed in a public forum, these words will not be allowed in work settings.
Even broaching these subjects put us as faculty in a difficult position. Irrespective of your individual political beliefs, you have an obligation to ensure that our graduates fully understand and abide by legal restrictions on speech in the workplace. It is a part of the core of AUPHA’s mission and values.