At Brigham and Women’s, hall is not so hallowed anymore
Another case of moral superiority, as an inspiring wall is swept clean
It was refreshing to see Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier’s op-ed about the removal of the portraits from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital amphitheater, a move that was made because all the portraits were of men, all but one of them white (“Empty walls don’t promote diversity,” June 18).
Political correctness has become an overwrought and self-righteous polemic in the early 21st century in the United States. Its pose of moral superiority operates with disregard for the norms of earlier times. That there were great men of science in the 20th century does not mean that women and minorities should be oppressed now. But the anachronism of judging previous leaders of medical science by the standards of today’s progressives seems to have escaped the hospital’s president, Dr. Betsy Nabel.
Nabel continues the liberal fallacy of what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations” toward the women and minorities who she feels will be intimidated by seeing portraits of great physician-scientists of the past because they are white men. Even now, portraits of accomplished women and minority physician-scientists could have been added to the portrait wall. Instead, there are now no portraits to inspire the young physicians-to-be who are educated in Brigham and Women’s amphitheater.
Dr. Henry Michael Lerner
The writer, a practicing gynecologist, is a retired assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School.
In marking march of time, we’re more about erasure than inclusion
The decision to take down so-called nondiverse portraits of medical pioneers at Brigham and Womens’ Hospital is the latest example of our deficits in historical education (“Empty walls don’t promote diversity”). History is inclusive, not exclusive; include among those portraits the African-American physician who developed blood plasma, and other medical pioneers from under-represented groups, rather than take down and erase those others whose contributions were just as worthy.
This highlights a larger issue within and without education and society: the need to “rectify” history. Yes, historical curriculums of the past have excluded or minimized the contributions of those who are not of European descent, and, yes, changes in pedagogy are needed — but not to the exclusion of those groups who had heretofore been represented. A ll groups, many of them underrepresented, must be included in the new teaching in order for society— that means everyone, academic and not — to understand the human condition in its entirety.
Knowledge must be as broad and profound as possible, not narrowed to satisfy parochial tastes or agendas. The good has to be taken with the bad, the beautiful with the ugly, if we aspire to be truly an educated and, more important, empathetic society.
James R. Weiss
The writer teaches history at Salem State University and Lesley University.