Exploring Identity Through Monologues, Poetry, Music and More at “What Makes You … ?”

January 27, 2017 - The Proctor Harvey Amphitheater usually hosts clinical grand rounds for medical students, residents and attending physicians, but a recent event organized by Georgetown Arts and Medicine and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion made the amphitheater feel more like an open mic night at a coffeehouse.

At “What Makes You … ?,” a celebration of the artistic and diverse perspectives of the Georgetown University School of Medicine community, students, faculty and staff shared the ways in which their rich backgrounds shaped their identities.

Several students read essays reflecting on the experiences that led them to pursue medical education and the family members or friends who helped them along the way at the January 17 event, which also featured original music, spoken word, a capella, musical theater and a fashion show. The performances were preceded by a reception where attendees enjoyed two photography displays: “My White Coat Means,” a photo series by Georgetown Arts & Medicine and “A Day in the Life”, a photo series by Kevin Benamer from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“Arts & Medicine is thrilled to be able to cosponsor this night and there is just such a diversity of talent and perspectives at this school,” said John Guzzi (M’19), president of Georgetown Arts & Medicine. “Anytime we can get together and share that, it’s really special.”

“The arts importantly capture who we are when your white coat comes off,” said Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, dean for medical education at the School of Medicine. “It captures who we are when this coat is on. And remember that the nametag, the name embroidered on it, is not there to tell the patient who you are. It’s there so that you can look down every now and then and remember who you are.”

“Incredible” and “Emotional” Rehearsals

"The Office of Diversity and Inclusion partnered with Arts and Medicine because we wanted to create a unique space where issues of intersecting identities could be explored not through a lecture or training, but experienced through the nuanced lenses of individual stories and emotional expressions," said Susan Cheng, EdLD, senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion at the School of Medicine. 

In her introduction, Cheng praised the performers for opening up on stage and thanked attendees for their support. “Tonight we’re taking a little bit of a risk,” she said. “Folks are going to come up here and talk about issues of identity and what makes them. It’s very vulnerable and the rehearsals were incredible.”

Sharing her poetry about motherhood during a rehearsal was an affecting experience for Kristi Graves, PhD, associate professor of oncology. “I started crying during rehearsal,” Graves said. “It was fairly emotional, why I wrote it and what it means to me.”

Graves intended to share one poem at the event but the rehearsal inspired her to write and share two more poems. “I’ve never shared poetry before,” she said. “My family didn’t even know I wrote poetry.” Since the event, she has considered writing more poetry and taking a writing class. “The event had an afterglow of artistic creativity that I need to tap into,” she said.

“As an observer and attendee, I felt really connected to Georgetown and the people here, as well as a renewed sense of energy and compassion for all of the talent here,” Graves said.

Giving Members of the GUMC Community “The Opportunity to Be Heard”

Despite her shyness, Naushaba Khan (SMP’17) loves performing and appeared in several musical performances as a child. In college, she made a promise to herself not to pass up future opportunities to perform so when she learned about the event as a member of Georgetown Arts and Medicine, she had to sign up.

Khan strummed and sang a medley of songs by Ed Sheeran and the Lumineers. “Sometimes I forget how powerful performing can be,” she said after the event. “You have the opportunity to be heard. I love the silence and the lights. Nothing really exists in that moment except for your words.”

An Empowering Experience

After Griselda Potka (M’20) and her family emigrated from Albania to the US, they settled in a small apartment while her father worked as a house painter. In an essay titled “My American Grandmother,” Potka discussed how one of her father’s clients changed her life.

Mrs. Peelle was a 75 year-old retiree who happily spent time with 8 year-old Potka and her 4 year-old brother while her father worked. After Potka’s father finished painting her home, the homeowner kept in touch with birthday cards and holiday phone calls. Eight years later, Potka and her family moved to a new home. However, the move meant Potka had to attend a new school where fights in the cafeteria were a common occurrence. Mrs. Peel encouraged her to consider attending a private school, though the school’s tuition was more than Potka’s parents earned in a year.

After she fell in love with the school during a tour and was accepted, Potka received a letter indicating that an anonymous donor wished to pay for her education. She learned later that the anonymous donor was Mrs. Peelle.

“I can never fathom the ripple effect that this one woman’s selfless generosity and warm spirit would have on my own personal growth,” Potka said at the event. “I hope that one day, I’m in a position to pass the gift of education forward.”

“Reading my essay out loud made me feel very vulnerable but empowered at the same time,” Potka said after the event. “I appreciated that there was a lot of bravery at the event as my classmates also revealed touching and poignant stories.

“I really hope that this event continues in the future so that students at GUSOM can get to know each other outside the confines of academics,” she said

Kat Zambon
GUMC Communications