CHEPS attends 2024 Juneteenth Celebration

On Wednesday, June 19th, students and staff at CHEPS attended the U-M Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department’s fifth annual Juneteenth Celebration. Undergraduate pre-med student Goretti Tran reflects on the experience below.

Yesterday, alongside the rest of my peers at CHEPS, I attended the Juneteenth Celebration hosted by the U-M’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department. This year’s theme was Celebrating Excellence in People-First Engineering and Computing, and the program schedule included a live performance of the Black National Anthem, an abridged reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well keynote presentations from Professor Shawn Blanton, PhD, MS (Carnegie Mellon University) and Professor James Mickens, PhD (Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences). Both are alumni of the University of Michigan, having earned their doctoral degrees from the College of Engineering. Professor Blanton presented his current project: Empowering Access for Social Equity (EASE), which aims to create technologies that connect underserved groups to opportunities created by new public policies. Professor Mickens presented his research on incorporating important ethical considerations in computer science applications and education.

This was the first event I’ve attended regarding Juneteenth. Until now, I didn’t know much about it aside from the fact that it recently became a national holiday to commemorate the ending of slavery. June 19, 1865 marks the day when the end of the Civil War was announced in Texas, the final Confederate state to free its enslaved people. Considered by many as America’s second independence day, Juneteenth is a call for national reflection on its history of slavery and the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

But as I learned more about the history of Juneteenth throughout the event, I realized how much I still have yet to learn. While I knew Juneteenth was recognized relatively recently, I’ve never really thought about how it took over a century and a half for this important date to be named a national holiday (1865-2021). It speaks to how much work we still have left to do as a nation and as individuals.

In working at CHEPS, I think it is especially critical for those working in healthcare to understand and recognize the importance of Juneteenth, as it highlights how these ongoing patterns of discrimination and health disparities are not ahistorical. Juneteenth serves as a call to action for us to recognize and address the inequities in the American healthcare system that disproportionately impact under-resourced communities. After all, healthcare is not immune to perpetuating systemic and institutional injustices.

I also enjoyed and found a lot of value in both Professor Blanton’s and Professor Mickens’ talks. While I didn’t understand Professor Mickens’ research on the “Fediverse,” I appreciated his bit on the importance of knowing how to articulate your work, regardless of whether you’re an engineer or social sciences major. As an Organizational Studies (OS) major, I found it particularly relevant since OS isn’t very well-known, so I constantly find myself in situations where I need to explain what OS is and why it matters. While OS isn’t technical and convoluted in the same way engineering research can be, I do think explaining to people why “studying organizations matters” can be difficult to do at times. If anything, I think in some ways that makes OS a bit more difficult to explain because I’m articulating a learned perspective and not necessarily a skillset.

Finally, Professor Blanton presented on issues that arise when the government forms policies to address problems, but without much consideration for whether the policy will even be accessible for the groups they’re targeting. For example, millions of Americans did not receive the $1,200 stimulus check from the CARES Act because they did not make enough to file income taxes. We see similar issues of accessibility within healthcare. His walkthrough of filing taxes on the IRS site (during 2020) was particularly insightful and hit a little close to home. Fortunately, my family and I didn’t have to experience filing taxes in that complicated manner. But as a first-generation student, I do understand the frustrations of having to navigate resources without even knowing where to start. A policy fails when it cannot reach the people it aims to serve.

— Written by Goretti Tran, CHEPS Student