Statement from President Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS

In response to Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers report, January 12, 2018.

“On the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a time to reflect on civil rights and equity for all, the Academy is pleased to learn of the recommendation of the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers to remove the statue of J. Marion Sims from city property at 5th Avenue and 103rd Street. The report identified this location, which is directly across 5th Avenue from the Academy, as a “location with strong symbolic presence and a place of honor.” While we are pleased with the recommendation to remove the statue from our East Harlem neighborhood, relocating to another public venue still recognizes the work of J. Marion Sims without acknowledging his egregious misuse of power in conducting surgical experiments on enslaved black women.

We are now witnessing a wave of societal pushback and refusal to accept what has been deemed acceptable in the past. From the #MeToo movement to the removal of statues around the country, women and men alike are taking action to rectify the balance of power and reject racism.

At the Academy, we are dedicated to addressing disparities and structural racism that significantly affect health. One of the current outcomes of these inequities for many populations is that they carry a disproportionate burden of health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity to name just a few, leading to poor outcomes such as higher rates of maternal mortality. Throughout our 170-year history, we have worked to address these issues and have been fortunate to be a trusted partner with many forward-thinking organizations, foundations, corporations, and health colleagues at the New York City and State Departments of Health.

We thank the Commission for recognizing and recommending the Academy in its report as a partner to the city in conducting “a symposium on women’s health stemming from objections to the Dr. J. Marion Sims monument.” In the coming months, we look forward to partnering with Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, her dedicated team at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and other partner organizations to provide opportunities for the public to examine issues of race and health. On February 14, we will address the issue of maternal mortality and its disproportionate effect on the black and Hispanic communities at our 2018 New York Maternal Mortality Summit, a collaborative effort with the New York City and State Departments of Health, the Greater New York Hospital Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Region II.

Throughout 2018 we will continue our work to raise the public discourse on health equity and removal of the barriers that prevent good health and an equally long and quality life for all.

We would like to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio for establishing an inclusionary process allowing the voices of New Yorkers to be heard regarding the disposition of the Sims statue and others around the city that evoke messages of hate and inequality.”

Judith A. Salerno, MD, MS
The New York Academy of Medicine