When I wrote my last newsletter, Covid had sent students home for the rest of the spring semester, and many in the reproductive health community were wondering whether and how to engage in advocacy during the pandemic. In the past five months, Covid has transformed from a time-limited public health emergency, into our daily public health reality. Duke has settled into a new normal with a transformed campus life, including more social distancing, online and hybrid classrooms and an active surveillance program for faculty, staff and students. Our teams in Kenya and Uganda have used the research pause to strengthen their relationships with the local partners in sexual and reproductive health, mental health and cancer care, utilizing zoom workshops and webinars to build their networks and develop strategies to reimagine health care for the Covid and post-Covid era. Similarly, Blue Devils have risen to the occasion. Students have worked hard to engage online, balancing the new demands of masking, social distancing, or learning from new environments. Faculty and staff are using innovative teaching strategies and sites, working to develop the connections that won’t be happening in the classrooms.

As much as Covid has defined the structure of our days, the national conversation also has been dominated by the reactions to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the global demonstrations against the systemic racism that remains so evident in America today. The racial disparities seen in the impact of Covid across the country and right here in Durham have really underscored this. All of this has been set against the backdrop of a national election, during which the politicization of health, science and social justice has further polarized Americans. What can Blue Devils do to get involved? How are they making a difference?  Duke leadership has risen to the moment by challenging themselves and schools across the university to critically examine their progress in equity, diversity and inclusion, and make the necessary changes to address weaknesses. Many of these conversations are open to the Duke and Durham community. School of Medicine researchers are leading the way in Covid-related studies, from the disparities, to treatments and vaccines, to the impact on SRH service uptake. Duke is encouraging everyone to vote, facilitating online registration and hosting voter information sessions.

So, while 2020 has been challenging, once it is over we may look back and reflect on how pivotal this year was in our history.  How will the response to Covid and the disparities that is has laid bare help restructure our health care system and public health infrastructure? What will we learn and how will our society change as a result of the growing public rejection of systemic racism? What will the national election mean for the next four, ten or fifty years in this country?  As Blue Devils, we are in a position to shape these answers. We have the opportunity to learn deeply about these issues, to engage in the ongoing discourse, to participate in demonstrations to express our opinions and to use the power of our vote. So, when we look back and ask “what did I do in response to all of this?” we can be proud of our answer.

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