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Taylor Canada: The Historical Deletion of the Black Female Body and Modern Healthcare

This past summer I was awarded an Undergraduate Research Grant (URGE) to work on my senior Honors capstone project, “Enduring Artifacts of Slavery: The Deletion of the Black Female Body and an Excavation for Historically Informed, Modern-day Healthcare.” My thesis focuses on how slavery medicine has perpetuated myths about Black women and how these myths have developed into present-day medical biases. My major is Biochemistry, and I am applying to medical school this fall. Throughout the course of my shadowing experiences in preparing for this career path, I encountered instances of medical prejudice against Black women specifically, right here in Arkansas. I wanted to use this thesis as a way to learn about the history of medical biases toward Black women; where they come from, why they exist, and how to alleviate these biases. I hope to use my thesis as a reference to come back to when I finally practice as a physician.

My URGE grant allowed me to stay on campus during the summer, which was crucial to me having the resources necessary to continue developing my thesis. Some resources that UCA provided were the library historical archives, the online databases, and the Interlibrary Loan service, which was a fundamental asset for my historical research. I did not end up using UCA’s archives during this summer, but I plan to use them in the future for Black Arkansans’ stories of medical bias. My goals at the beginning of the summer were to restructure the foundation of my historical background, get through all the cornerstone literature for my thesis’ ideal framework, and to narrow my topic.

A big challenge that I encountered over the course of my grant timeline was first and foremost the immense amount of literature required for an adequate historical background. When I first decided on my thesis topic, I underestimated the amount of literature that I would need to get through by a wide margin. This underestimate was exacerbated by the fact that I started this summer with a much broader focus on my topic. To help alleviate these problems, my thesis mentor helped guide me to a clearer and narrower focus for my topic.  I am by no means a history expert, and my gap in historical scholarship related to Antebellum slave medicine was fairly wide. My mentor was amazing at helping me close that gap. She led me toward countless concrete resources that have augmented my level of understanding. My new goal is to use my thesis as a sort of overview of a few streams of historical literature and statistics for Black women’s health outcomes in gynecology and renal medicine.

Other challenges that I encountered were restructuring the goals of my thesis into a more manageable workload for the next year, narrowing my thesis topic to enrich its effect, and managing the emotional weight that accompanies the severity of this topic. When I was reading hundreds of pages a week, the emotional heaviness that I felt was a big weight to carry. Compacting dozens of horror stories into a few months’ time is a lot for anyone. I took this heaviness in waves and tried to remember that my thesis is not just a sad story about racist medicine, but also a way for Black women to gain agency in telling their own stories. I plan to devote a large portion of my thesis to Black women’s stories of medicalized racism.

Overall, I think my URGE grant experience was a positive one. I feel like I achieved most of my goals for the summer and that my purpose and direction for the remainder of my thesis has been refocused and reinvigorated. I am forever grateful for the experience I had this summer, and I would recommend every Honors student take advantage of an URGE grant. Thank you again to UCA Schedler Honors College, UCA Foundation, and all donors to these funds that made this experience possible.