A book cover next to a portrait of a smiling woman.
Linda Villarosa's upcoming lecture at VCU will focus on her 2022 book "Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation." (Contribute photo)

VCU Libraries’ inaugural Social Justice Lecture will focus on racism in health care

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Journalist, author, editor and educator Linda Villarosa will be the inaugural speaker in a new VCU Libraries lecture series on social justice.

The focus of Villarosa’s work is on disparities in health care. Her talk at 7 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Room 303 of the James Branch Cabell Library at VCU supports the theme of Health Literacy Month observed by the VCU Health Sciences Library and the VCU Medical Center Health and Wellness Library. Her lecture will be on her 2022 book “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation.”

“In the past two years, long-standing racial health inequity has become exposed, forcing America to grapple with issue of race and justice and to understand the origins of discrimination and its continued impact on the well-being of people and communities,” Villarosa said.

“Much of this movement has been led by medical, nursing and public health students — our future providers and policymakers — who want to create more just systems. Whereas in the past, race was considered a risk factor for a number of health conditions that affect people of color, particularly Black people in America, now it is clear we must speak a harder truth: It’s not race, but racism and other forms of ill treatment that takes a toll on the body, makes people sick and shortens life. Even as science races to confront COVID-19 and other diseases, racism in society and medicine is the more difficult virus to kill.”

Her presentation in Richmond is linked to the October meeting of the Association of Research Libraries’ Leadership and Career Development Program Institute hosted by VCU Libraries. Attendees of the conference will be invited to the lecture, which is free and open to the public.

Registration for in-person or Zoom attendance is open.

The new Social Justice Lecture series is envisioned as an annual exploration of topics by national voices who will illuminate concerns at the core of social justice: awareness of the poor and victims of injustice; respect for the dignity and identity of all persons; educating students not only for college and career but also for life; and creating a united community where diversity is respected, where no one is left out, and where everyone finds a place.

“We serve a diverse community of engaged students, scholars, and residents. Creating a lecture series that focuses on social justice allows us to present stimulating and thought-provoking topics in a supportive culture of care,” said Irene Herold, Ph.D., dean of libraries and university librarian, who is creating the new series as a strong addition to VCU Libraries’ public programming. “This lecture series supports our values of evolving to meet our community’s needs and embracing diversity and inclusion to foster excellence.”

The 2022 lecture has particular salience for patients, health care school students and others associated with the MCV Campus. “Ms. Villarosa is a notable voice on the issues of racial disparities and inequalities in health care,” said Teresa L. Knott, associate dean and director of the VCU Health Sciences Library. “Nationally, Villarosa has brought attention to health disparities to broader audiences. With the VCU Medical Center Health and Wellness Library, we strive to improve health literacy to support individuals in advocating for their health in a knowledgeable way.”

As a journalist, Villarosa covers race, inequality and health as a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Her 2018 cover story, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. Her 2017 article, “America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic,” won a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ award for Excellence in Journalism and that organization inducted her into its Hall of Fame in 2020. Her essay on medical myths was included in the New York Times’s well-received 1619 Project in August 2019 and is published in the 1619 Project Book published in 2021. She has covered the toll Covid-19 has taken on Black communities in America, the environmental justice movement in Philadelphia in 2020 and has written about life expectancy in Chicago in 2021. For several years, Villarosa edited the health pages for the New York Times, working on health coverage for Science Times and for the newspaper at large. She also served previously as executive editor of Essence Magazine.

She has received many accolades and honors including awards from The American Medical Writers’ Association, The Arthur Ashe Institute, the New York Association of Black Journalists, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists’ Association.  

A graduate of the University of Colorado, Villarosa spent a year at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as a journalism fellow. She returned to school later and earned a master’s degree in urban journalism/digital storytelling in 2013 from CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. She is a professor and journalist in residence at her alma mater, and she also teaches reporting, writing and Black Studies at The City College of New York in Harlem. She lives in Brooklyn.

The inaugural Social Justice Lecture is presented by the office of the dean of VCU Libraries with additional support from Work & Think, LLC.