WBUR Town Hall RECAP: The Post-Pandemic Society

What will the post-pandemic world look like? Will many of us never return to the office to work? Will our children be in classrooms with only ten other students some days and learning from home the others? Will restaurants be able to survive with half the tables and no bars? Will our athletes play and our musicians perform in front of empty seats? What will change for higher education and Boston's art institutions? How will the city grapple with a long history of racism? Will we be kinder, more equitable and less polluted?

Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing led the conversation with Dr. Helen Boucher, chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center; Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, president-elect of Simmons University; Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Museum of Fine Arts; and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo.

On strengthening local ties at the expense of the global:

Matthew Teitelbaum: We are a great international museum. We have international collections. We have international relationships. We exist in the exchange of information in a truly global world. And I worry a bit that the pandemic pushes us to be more internally focused and more locally rooted. I think there are big, big positives [that can come] out of that. I think our connection with [the] community has already become deeper. But the loss of the global does concern me — that fair exchange of ideas, of art. Things are getting a lot more challenging in how we move around the world. We are in relation to our community, in part because of our global relationships. And so there's going to be, as the president says, a rethinking of what some of our commitments will be.

On addressing racism in America’s systems:

Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten: As ... organizational development [scholars], we have a phrase to say, every system is exquisitely designed to get the results it gets. What Ricardo spoke to is, for 400 years, America has been designed to get the disparities, the inequities, the racism that we see. Where I sit in my sector of higher ed, I've been thinking about ... is this our time and ... what is change going to have to look like? I'm trying to use this crisis as an opportunity.

The K-12 system is going to have to be fixed, which we didn't talk about. [There are] students who didn't learn anything from March [until] June because of access [and] teacher qualities. How we think about higher education and access, the pricing of higher ed, the delivery modes, the majors and how we prepare people for careers are going to have to change.

Also ... higher ed is a platform where research can needs to be done. Research has to be a vehicle to be the [systemic] change that Ricardo has [spoken] about.

The final thing I think we need is in every sector — whether it be the arts or public policy or business — is that people have to come together to understand the lived experiences of racism. In higher ed, that comes through service learning projects. It comes through the classroom, the curriculum. It comes from the arts. In our nursing school, for example, everyone should be required to study health disparities and those social determinants that Ricardo just [mentioned].

And so, this is the time. We need major [systemic] change. One of the reasons why I'm so excited is because I think Boston has the resources and the capacity to do that and be a beacon for this.

On opportunities for innovation in the wake of the pandemic: 

Dr. Helen Boucher: For us, I think one thing is telehealth. We have seen the advancement of telehealth [by] probably a decade in six months. We were talking about it. We were getting into it slowly. But telehealth is a real part of health care, and I think it's here to stay.

How much? I'm not sure. But for people like Lynn's mom, who is comfortable doing telehealth, that is potentially keeping her safe and getting her care that she needs. We have many such patients.

So, I am excited about that because the feedback we're seeing from patients on their satisfaction are extremely positive. So this is one silver lining of this deep cloud that we've been living in. And I think it's ... another tool we can use with technology to the betterment of health. It's certainly not the answer, but it's one positive step.

On embracing the hard work of dismantling systemic racism: 

Ricardo Arroyo: When we talk about addressing racial inequity in the city ... that's going to require an intentionality that can be very hard. I think the reality is [that], for many people, the idea of addressing inequity is misconstrued with the idea that that means less access to things for you, rather than equal access to those kinds of resources and opportunities to communities that otherwise have been shut out.

I think ... that creates, from a political standpoint, a pushback whenever we're trying to intentionally address this harm — the harm that has led to [a] lack of opportunities or lack of resources, because that requires providing more resources and more opportunities ... When we talk about moving forward, it's going to require us to — and I mean this from a personal standpoint — ... if you are doing something to address racial inequity or social inequity, and it's easy for you to do it ... then you need to dig deeper and find that harder thing to do. For instance, if we're talking about [how] it's easier for me to address the symptoms of racism than the systems themselves, then you should also address the system and the symptoms. You should dig deeper ...

People have brought up their pain a lot easier. I've done it. I've been swimming in and out of trauma and secondary trauma as I navigate these things, to be quite honest. At that State House speech, I actually that was a very emotional day for me. There's been aspects of this that have carried with me, and I've labeled it like this: We can have policy disagreements, but when we talk about race, we're talking about my life. We're talking about the lives of my family members, the [lives] of my nephews, the [lives] of my future children, the [lives] of my parents. And there's no real issue that anybody can bring up — whether it's environment or gun rights or housing — that we don't have faith can be solved within our lifetimes.

I have a history of seeing race inequity not solved in people who I've loved's lifetimes. There's a level of distress that I think every person of color carries, understanding that they can put everything that they can can muster of themselves into the fight for racial equity, and when they die, we may very well not have moved that much further than when we began. The only way that that's going to get reversed is if folks in power — our white allies or white accomplices, folks who have access to these systems — begin to do that hard work themselves.

This article was originally published on June 26, 2020.



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