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Winter 2021: Pandemic Politics - From Lockdown to Liberation (Virtual)

"Pandemic Politics: From Lockdown to Liberation” is a Detroit community-based course that welcomes participation by the general public, including college students from both U-M and Wayne State University. The class is hosted and developed by a partnership among: the General Baker Institute (a non-profit community-based organization located in NW Detroit) faculty in the U-M Semester in Detroit Program, and faculty from the Wayne State University Department of African-American Studies and the Damon Keith Center for Civil Rights. This class is made possible with generous support provided by the Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis, College of LSA & A. Alfred Taubman College of. Architecture and Urban Planning.

The minicourse will explore contemporary and historical intersections between public health and structural racism - both in Detroit and throughout U.S. society more broadly. Each week, we will be joined by Detroit activist-scholars who will help everyone more deeply understand what is happening today in Detroit and in our country more broadly. 

In addition to the class content described above, U-M students who register for the 1-credit mini-course will also have the opportunity to meet and to learn from some of the veteran Detroit activists who are building the General Baker Institute (GBI). The organization recently opened its new community center in NW Detroit to honor the legacy of General Gordon Baker Jr., one of the most important labor and community activists in modern Detroit history. 

For more information about this public series, please contact Craig Regester, Semester in Detroit Associate Director, at 313-505-5185 or email: Session themes are outlined below, and the speakers will be announced (as well as suggested reading materials) on this website closer to the session dates.

Watch classes live & catch up on previous sessions on the General Baker Institute's Youtube channel.

February 10th - Structural Racism and Public Health: A Way Forward?

Racism has been declared a public Health emergency, but this has been given little analytic content.  "Structural racism and public health: A way forward?" takes up this challenge. Professor Peter Hammer explores the relationship between spatial-structural racism and the social and economic determinants of health.  Water shutoffs in Detroit are taken as a case study.   Monica Lewis Patrick, Dr. Nadia Gaber and Dr. Emily Kutil lift up the work of the We The People of Detroit Community Research Collaborative. They will discuss the geography of water shutoffs in Detroit, including new research about how shutoffs have shaped the COVID-19 pandemic. Martina Guzman, the Damon J. Keith Civil Rights Center Racial Equity Media Fellow provides a global perspective juxtaposing water shutoffs in Detroit and South Africa.  

Suggested reading:

February 17th - Racism and Medicine: A History

The call to declare racism a public health crisis suggests a shift towards a holistic approach that will address the roots of the problem rather than merely addressing the symptoms of inequality. Yet public health and healthcare in the U.S. have a history of inequity, indifference, and violence towards people of color, while the response to the Covid-19 pandemic suggests the continued impact of eugenics and white supremacy on public health and policy decisions in the U.S.  In “Racism and Medicine: A History,” our panelists show how racialized understandings of public health, safety, pain, access to care, and treatment have led to horrific attacks against people of color. Pauli, member of Cosecha, for example, will discuss how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the federal government used the pandemic as cover to arrest and harass immigrant communities and families and by prohibiting those suffering from the weight of the shutdowns from receiving much needed economic and medical assistance. Similarly, Azadeh Shahshahani, from Project South will discuss how immigrant women in ICE custody in Georgia were subjected to forced sterilizations as well as how the organization was able to bring this issue to light. Finally, Nayyirah Shariff, Director of Flint Rising, will talk about how Flint, was the first community in the state to declare racism as a public health crisis. And how residents and their allies rose up and demanded to be heard.

Suggested Readings:

March 3rd - Policing Public Health: Cops, Robber Barons, and Protest

State and police violence against Black people has been framed in terms of public safety and health for many years. Criminologists and social scientists, for example, in the first half the 20th century frequently evoked the pathology of Black urbanites to criminalize Black people and to justify segregation and containment of Black communities. Today, scholars and activists have pushed the nation to conceptualize structural racism as a public health crisis, terms which are already being manipulated to serve the interests and budgets of police forces. In this session, we interrogate how the DPD, along with “public health and safety” oriented groups like Ceasefire and  Crimestoppers continue this same pattern by “diagnosing” the pathology of poor and working-class Black people while ignoring the systemic and structural causes that are at the root of the problem. For this session we will be joined Yusef Bunchy Shakur of the Community Movement Builders, Lloyd Simpson of Detroit Will Breathe, and by Asar Amen-Ra, the uncle of Hakim Littleton, who was murdered last summer by members of the DPD despite already being in police custody. 

Suggested Readings: 


March 10th - The Violence of Poverty: Economic Inequality and Public Health

Please join us for a rich panel discussion with panelists Valerie Jean (Detroit community activist, People's Water Board), Nijmie Dzurinko (Co-Founder, Put People First PA!), Rev. Liz Theoharis (Co-Founder, National Poor People's Campaign), moderated by Shailly Gupta-Barnes (Policy Director, The Kairos Center).

Suggested Readings:

March 24th - Housing and the Right to Live

In this session, we will address the relationship among housing access, structural racism and public health. How does a city like Detroit, which once had the highest rate of Black home ownership in the country, now have more residents who rent than own their homes? What is tax foreclosure and why has it struck Black Detroiters so disproportionately in the past 8-10 years? What explains chronic homelessness in our society, and how are folks without access to housing organizing and fighting for their right to live? 

Speakers for this session will include: Ted Phillips of the United Community Housing Coalition, Jerry Cullors of Detroit Eviction Defense, and Savina Martin of the National Union of the Homeless. Moderated by Craig Regester, Adjunct Lecturer, UM Ann Arbor/Semester in Detroit.

Short readings: 

For those who want a deeper dive: