After almost 9 years in Champaign-Urbana, I decided to list my top 10 accomplishments. Granted, there are a lot that didn’t make the list such as accomplishing live radio streaming from a pizza shop which was incredible. Nonetheless, I had to pick 10. So here they are. I hope you enjoy…
10. Travel to Central Europe
I was looking for any way to escape Champaign. The educational environment was too toxic and I needed to be
away to gain clarity on why I started the MD/PhD program in the first place. I was leaving lab to head for seminar when I came across a friend that told me about a grant opportunity that seemed unreal. He said that I should apply to this NSF grant
to travel to Central Europe and do research during the summer. He praised its importance and the support from the administrators. On a passing recommendation, I applied with the deadline being less than a couple months away. I just had to get out of Champaign-Urbana. I was able to successfully identify a researcher in Germany to support a suggested project depsite my lack of support on campus. I ended up being denied at first and then getting the grant when a windfall of funds was obtained. I got to live in Jena, Germany
for almost 2 months and traveled sporadically for professional and personal purposes to Hungary, Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic. I spent varying time in each of these places and was exposed to an extremely different way of life that opened my eyes and started to revive my hope for Science and humanity. Many people don’t get to travel during their graduate or professional training and I was able to tour Central Europe on the government’s dime.
I was privileged to organize my campus, region and national board for the Latino Medical Student Association
professional medical student organization with thousands of members across the country. I met so many amazing people, along with a few a$#%@es, throughout my time in this group. I helped to organize a local chapter of NNLAMS (former name of LMSA) on my campus after being the sole participant for a while. From there, I was able to galvanize people to participate in Regional and National conferences. I went on to the Regional Board where I had an amazing team of motivated folks to help run the Midwest. Yes, we had 1 or 2 scatterbrained individuals who drained me every now and then, but I was excited for my region. During my time as Regional Midwest Co-President, our region became its most profitable and experienced its largest expansion in terms of activating chapters to date.
On the advice of my mentor Dr. Phil DeChavez, I relunctantly ran for National Coordinator and won. It was an extreme privilege and we made history. We were able to write 2 grants for our organization. We were able to get one funded which paid for GLAS for the following year in the SW region in Texas. LMSA expanded well beyond its prior capacity. During my time, I had to be one (if not the) top student fundraiser. For my chapter, I helped to raise an average of $5,000 or more each year for my chapter using campus resources (SORF, SCPF, La Casa funds) and anything else I could garner from donors and fundraisers.
During my time as National Coordinator, we conducted our first streaming live conference and had over 50 participants watching it live. A year or so prior to becoming National Coordinator, LMSA SW became defunct. Something happened where the entire region de-activated and no one really knew why. After weeks of e-mailing and cajoling individuals at various institutions, I was able to get in contact with a few scholars at various SW medical schools and organize a house of delegates meeting. At this meeting, I spoke and they invited a group of key note speakers on issues affecting Latin@s in border communities and across the country. Afterwards, they voted on an e-board and the SW was been getting stronger ever since. In 2014, LMSA SW is actually hosting
the National Conference
which many would not have foreseen just 2 years ago. I don’t know if anyone realized how much effort I put into ensuring that this took place, but it was worth it. There were a lot of good people down there and I was more than happy to sacrifice my time.
I was able to help write and design for the first and second LMSA National Publications organized by a good friend. For the national conference my year in 2012, we held it at Harvard Medical School and featured a Presidential Medal Of Freedom recipient Dr. Pedro José Greer
. On my way out of office, we successfully lobbied UIC to donate a free database for us to manage our membership. And yes, there was 1-2 scabs
on the National Board and National Conference committee. But I am proud of everything that I did at each level and can honestly say that I left each level in the best condition that it had ever been when I walked out the door.
8. Rule Changes
Many people don’t know this, but there were 2 U of I
rules that were changed because of me. The first is the banning of spray chalking. During 2007, I spray chalked “KKK Est. 1906 at UIUC
” (this is reference to the fact that there was our University was the first to have a collegiate chapter of the Ku Klux Klan
) adjacent to spray chalkings of people running for student government such as alums Chime Asonye (“Vote For Chime”) and Paul Schmitt (“Vote For Schmitt”). They erased my chalkings and none of the others. I should have sued for infringement on my civil liberties but I don’t have time for this nonsense. I didn’t come to give these people an education in Social Justice. I came to get degrees in Medicine and the Sciences.
They can spin it however they want, but they felt that my words and actions were too powerful. Instead of challenging me directly, they changed policies and procedures to try to limit me and anyone else who would employ similar tactics. To see the University of Illinois legislate its ignorance was awesome.
7. The Show – Radio Program
From the first month that I arrived to my last year in Champaign-Urbana, I was involved in some capacity with WRFU, 104.5 FM
. This is a public community radio station that literally did not exist prior to my arrival. On November 8, 2005, we conducted our first broadcast. I actually had to make my first one a pre-recorded mp3 due to a conflicting event at the AHA National Conference in New Orleans that year
. That was a technological learning curve that I wasn’t
expecting to tackle. I aired Fridays at 10 PM and was on almost every week during my first few years. Towards the end, I was more inclined to record content in my home studios and air it for fans and enthusiasts. I hadthe longest running program on WRFU since I literally broadcast since inception. Not exactly hard to do since I was one of the first people there. Nonetheless, it was an amazing roller coaster ride that provided me direct insight into the power of media and the importance of making the airwaves accessible.
6. The Show – TV Program
In my ire and frustation with the College of Medicine, I expanded my media efforts to TV to combat their message. Ironically, these efforts led me to having one of the most popular and impactful TV programs on UPTV. I filmed over 100 TV episodes that aired on Urbana Public TV Channel 6
and UI TV Channel 7
. I eventually found out that I was eligible to put TV episodes on the U of I cable network (which is a propaganda machine for the University of Illinois
). Every now and then, the different cable channel director for the U of I would reject content which was super frustrating. I mean, I am a student actively involved in the community and media. To have content that was fine by FCC standards rejected
by UITV was disappointing especially when I thought the cable channel was supposed to permit students to express their own art. Obviously, that was a fool’s notion. Nonetheless, at my peak, I had content on Mondays and Wednesdays on 2 cable channels (Urbana Public TV Cable Channel 6 and University of Illinois Cable Channel 7). I would do live Fridays and do extra public comment sessions at student government meetings I am probably the first MD/PhD to produce, film, edit and host his own radio & TV program throughout his graduate & professional training without any support from the University. No one told me what to do. I wasn’t someone’s lackey to talk about what they want
when they want. I did what I pleased and I advocated for issues that mattered to me. Some colleagues, students and community members supported. Some observed with disdain or disinterest. The latter was a much more prominent group. However, there were a lot of highlights from interviewing people in the community live on the street (pizza shops, bars, etc) to coordinating live events across campus (La Casa
, Asian Ameican Cultural Center
, Illini Union
, Courtyard Cafe
, Quad, etc) to events in one of my various studios over the years. I was fortunate to interview international stars and world renowned scholar Nikki Giovanni
. I featured a President Medal Of Freedom Recipient Sylvia Mendoza
and amazing authors (Chris Benson
, John Jennings), directors (Victor Cruz
, Benny Klain) and so on and so on. You get the picture.
The more time that I spent on TV, the less that I spent on the radio. Producing a radio broadcast is a different
beast from doing TV. Plus, TV allows you to fully craft the visual associated with your art as it is consumed.
I haven’t found any evidence to the contrary, but I believe I am the first MD/PhD to have his own radio and TV program fully produced on his own throughout the graduate and professional training. For almost 9 years straight, I dominated all other students and community members in terms of media production. And this was amidst a slew of other academic obligations and projects that I oversaw. I feel extremely privileged to have been able to connect with so many people in this way.
5. Racism, Power & Privilege
The Champaign-Urbana campus is notorious for racist theme parties and random acts of ignorance. They try to cover it up but it it is annoying and detracts from the educational experience IMHO. The second year I was here, there was a crazy party
held by Delta Delta Delta sorority and Zeta Beta Tau fraternity where students dressed like Mexicans (dressed like vatos, pillow under shirt to symbolize pregnant, gardeners, well… you get the picture). Anyhow, there was a huge backlash from students at the same that people were getting super pissed about the racist mascot which involved a white kid running around during sporting events dressed up like their version of a native person. I worked with a slew of scholars from staff, admin, students and community members to organize what is probably the U of I’s largest most effective event in its history. We forced the President, Chancellor, BOT members and others to sit on stage while we yelled at them. We were able to get over 3,000 present at Foellinger Hall or watching from other locations via live stream (Greg Hall, Illini Union Rooms and via internet). Shortly after this event in February 2007, the University succumbed to the pressure and removed the image as the mascot.
Some people think that the NCAA was the real reason for the mascot removal due to the potential sanctions (ie ineligible for NCAA tournaments) but that’s absurd. To think that this wasn’t in the works for decades is dishonest. The NCAA threat of sanctions came as a result of advocacy from community groups coordinating efforts to remove the mascot and mascot imagery from NCAA sports teams.
In 2005, the American Psychological Association
had released a statement citing the “harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals, including the particularly harmful effects of American Indian sports mascots on the social identity development and self-esteem of American Indian young people”. However, 1984 is the year that Charlene Teters
became the first brave soul on our campus to protest the existence of the mascot. Eventually, I tried speaking and eventually yelling at so many people at various levels about this ignorant image citing it as a blaring example to legitimize my claim that there is a culture of bias and unprofessionalism at the University of Illinois College of Medicine
). People kept telling me it would never happen utilizing all sorts of racist logic to rationalize why I should accept it and move on.
Contrary to popular opinion, 2007 marked the year that a collective of professors, students, community members and outside forces were able to align to effect social change. But we didn’t only remove the mascot. We came from different perspectives to make a bunch of changes that many students don’t even know. From getting remodeling in cultural houses to advocating for various Ethnic studies Programs such as Latino/Latino Studies Major
, we got physical and political changes accomplished. For those interested in watching this public meeting that is about 2 hours long, you can watch it here: http://www.iresist.org/stop/
4. Spoken Word Film & Audio Albums
I was super depressed and in a bad mind state during the second year of Medical School / 7th year of my program. I ended up doing more writing than usual as a way to vent. One random night, I stumbled upon the Urbana Public Arts grant opportunity. In the midst of all this drama and turmoil in my professional and personal life, I thought that producing a Spoken Word album would be a positive way to address my issues. I never really thought that they would give me the grant. After all, I thought, do they know how racist I think this town is?? Well, sure enough, I got the grant. I started to consider the possibilities and move everything inmotion to create a masterpiece.
But I didn’t want to be generic or cornball. So I recruited some top notch artists including Add-2
who signed with Grammy Award-winning producer 9th Wonder’s JamLa Records
within a year of that album release. I also recruited Rokmore of TheGr8Thinkaz
who is one of the most talented artists I have encountered when it comes to beat production. I linked up with some amazing spoken word artists in the interim. With that said, the most
powerful video was done with Jazmine McKinney and filmed by Emmanuel Camacho
. With the help of one of this students (Shabaka Verna), we were able to
produce a visual masterpiece that won the Midwest Award for Best in Show in the performing arts category in 2014
After a successul and well-received IPS volume I, I set my sites on a second tour de force. I set out to produce an album with Aaron Ammons. Ironically, volume I was supposed to be all about Aaron and I. However, we could never get in the studio together due to scheduling. I decided that I had to work with Aaron for volume II. We set goals and expectations. However, the final product far exceeded anything we could have imagined. We disseminated 200 hard copies locally and had an amazing release event that was covered in 2 publications prior to transpiring.
Not only was the second album release a huge success, but we are going to release a special video for the second album that I believe will surpass volume I and surprise many.
3. Finishing my Ph. D. in Biochemistry
After being wrongfully removed from my first lab, I was distraught. The U of I was so racist that I started to emotionally and physically feel the effects of the ignorance. I was somatizing my psychological distress in the form of back pain and poor sleep. My energy level and enthusiasm fell for the things that I love doing. That’s how salty they made me about the situation. I mean, I was in year 2 out of 8 and it was overwhelming to think how many more years I would have to endure. Despite that, I received grants, awards and recognition throughout. I finished with 2 first author publications (1 is currently under review). I have another first author publication that I am working to finish before I leave in April. Admittedly, senioritis is kicking in so that third one might be on hold. Ironically, there were people on my campus that believed that I would not finish. I don’t even know why. I’ve faced some extremely difficult odds. And while I haven’t batted a thousand, I certainly haven’t been defeated. I don’t understand why so many people here would root for my failure either. I never cared but it was needlessly disparaging because I made plain in my words publicly my distaste. A lot of people here are heavily invested into a reality that is predicated on inequity. Acknowledging that fact and pointing to insulting factors makes you a target here. For my statements and activities, I was blacklisted within the research community at the U of I. The Biochem department lepor is the only way to describe how a lot of people interacted with me. Even still, many may walk these halls, but not all will leave with a degree much less a doctorate. I got mine. Did you?
2. Finishing my Medical Degree
Admittedly, the University of Illinois College of Medicine tainted my experience. Whether it was Dean Jennifer Bloom
telling me “Ray, we want to work with you! We don’t want to have to call the police on you!” or Dean Bradford Schwartz
threatening to give me a professionalism violation, my COM experience was mired in a disparaging and insulting overtone. Ironically, both of their threats would formalize in some form. The COM would initiate a bogus police investigation to legitimize campus police searching for me at my house and then lab to have a “conversation” with me. When I explained to Dean Schwartz what the
rules for a professionalism violation were, he eventually fabricated a letter to put in my file as mechansim to threaten my career. I walked a fine line with in-your-face public media to respond to their constant barrage of low level racist threatening tactics. I was almost kicked out… I almost dropped out… I almost ran out of money… So much happened throughout that I can’t explain how I felt. A medical degree was theoreticallyeasier to obtain than a PhD, but the people made it a prison sentence. Being bounded by folks who were actively undermined my ideas and activities left a bitter taste. As soon as I obtain every needed requirement to graduate from the U of I COM, I am leaving this town. I hope to never come back. With that said, I came here to obtain a graduate and a professional degree to legitimize my intellectual position amongst other leading scholars. I may not be where I want to be. But I am on track.
1. Getting into my #1 pick for Residency
At one point before all the carnage ensued from my decision to be vocal about my discontent at the University of Illinois College of Medicine
, I sat in a room in my basement thinking about what might happen. I played out all the doomsday scenarios about what might be in store for the next umpteen years as a result of my potential next steps. One possibility was that I might not get into the type of residency program of my choice, much less the location.
I could have shut my mouth. Reaped the benefit of continued funding and guaranteed ascension with the research ranks with continued efforts. Instead, I had my funding threatened, cut and limited through teaching opportunities. I accepted that I would have to TA for over 6 semesters for so many courses. I accepted that I would have to teach and grade for courses with over 200 people. Think about how long it takes to grade 300 exams within 1 week. Even if you only grade 2 or 3 questions, you are incapacitated for 1 week in research doing mindless grunt work. I’d love to contrast my TA experiences with others in NIH MSTP
funded MD/PhDs. The cushy calm of the quiet fell deaf on me. Not to mention accepting being socially blacklisted for my strong position on matters pertaining to marginalized populations. The social ramifications were bizarre. I’ve never been socially ousted by cornballs. As if they had anything I wanted other than civility and human decency.
There were a lot of turns where simply not being true to who I am would have yielded more favorable professional outcomes… at least momentarily. I stuck with it though, because I am of the opinion that I control my own fate. Being the best that I can be requires believing that my best effort is more than enough to accomplish my destiny. Getting into my #1 choice for residency was a validation of that belief. One that I was doubtful of for stretches. Needless to say, I made it. Hopefully it is clear by now that it is engrained in me to “persevere and achieve in spite of numerous obstacles.”
The last decade tested the limits of my willpower and belief in humanity. I had to re-evaluate a lot of professional and personal relationships that I would have never thought that I would draw into question. That has taught me to stay focused on my long term goals and to be flexible with my short term aspirations. Although I’m proud of the accomplishments that I listed, they pail in comparison as to what i thought I was possible. For that reason, I set my sights higher. My goals are being dreamed into existence and I get better and better at it with each effort.