Rhetoric studies major Kendra Winchester '18 has studied the language used by health researchers. Phrases such as "having bad blood," for instance, was once used as justification for using human beings as test subjects based on their race and economic status. These harmful expressions persist today.
Winchester will present the findings of her rhetoric thesis project at 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 13, 2018 in Olin 129. She will also discuss how histories of medicalization and race in America impact ongoing policy, law and social discourses for black communities.
Winchester was a co-recipient of the 2018 Adam Dublin Award for Study of Global Multiculturalism, along with Heather Ashley Hayes, assistant professor of rhetoric studies. The award helped fund Winchester's trip last summer to the U.S. National Archives in Morrow, Georgia, where she analyzed the archive of the administrative records of the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," an experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service in rural Alabama from 1929 to 1972.
Before her presentation, Winchester answered a few questions about the research she conducted for her thesis project.
How much did you know about the Tuskegee experiment before beginning your thesis project?
I knew very little before my thesis project. I initially knew that I wanted to create an intersection between my lifelong interests in science with my love for rhetoric. It was introduced to me in a course I took with Professor Hayes on African American Civil Rights. We read a book called "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" by Ibram X. Kendi. This book not only displayed a long history of how blackness operates in America, but showed instances of how the medicalization of black bodies played a huge role in its racist history. I was completely moved by this book and knew that I had to write about the intersection of racism and medicine.
What did you learn while reviewing the archives that you didn't know beforehand?
The whole process of archival work is quite interesting. It reinforced my feelings about accessibility and equity in the world. Archives are not the most accessible places. The process of getting in requires a lot of paperwork and coordination. To get into the building you basically have to go through the Transportation Security Administration. And once you are there, there are many rules that you must follow. The whole experience of archival research was so new and I appreciate being able to have that experience. Overall, I learned more so how nefarious the study was. It's one thing to read about the Tuskegee Study, but it is another to read directly from the texts that were created during the study. And those are documents are ones that not everyone will be able to see.
What can history, and this experiment in particular, teach us about the way in which government policies affect poor people and people of color?
This is such a large question. I think that this experiment within a historical context has reinforced how important understanding texts are. To critically engage and look at how these conditions are created is pivotal if we are to create an equitable life for all. I know how naive that may sound, but truly, if we are to get remotely close to that, we must look at historical texts and understand how they occurred.