SBVC COVID-19 Virtual Forums Address Cultural and Historic Inequities in Access, Combat Disinformation

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) recently hosted a series of informational forums that address COVID-19 and the racial, ethnic and cultural disparities in public health and vaccination.

The COVID-19 forums were an effort spearheaded by the SBVC Biology Department to provide a space for San Bernardino community members to have conversations about the unique concerns of minority groups while also providing factual information.

Tatiana Vásquez, associate professor of biology at SBVC, has been involved in organizing the forum. She said she and her fellow organizers felt compelled to put together the COVID-19 series after recognizing the concerns within the local community about vaccination and mistrust of the medical establishment and governmental bodies.

“We want to have different perspectives and voices to bring up something informative, but also this presents an opportunity to have conversations about sensitive issues, and those sensitive issues, I think, haven’t been addressed very well on the national level,” Vásquez said.

Fellow organizer and assistant professor in Student Health Services (SHS) Laura Estrada said the goal was to provide factual information while providing a safe space for people in the community to air their concerns about how the pandemic is affecting their specific communities. 

“We want to make sure that our students are going to be well informed to make decisions in regards to their health,” Estrada said. “Being in SHS, that’s our primary goal: providing preventative health education and making sure that we’re bringing awareness to our students and that we also acknowledge and be transparent about the process of this information.”

The first session, “Medical Apartheid on Black Americans” was hosted by author Harriet Washington, and centered around the medical establishment’s abuse of Black Americans and how that has potentially affected their ability to trust advancements in medicine, including the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Other sessions centered around the biology of viruses, the development of vaccines, and how San Bernardino County and the surrounding counties are distributing the inoculations. The last forum of the series included a segment for sharing personal stories and collective grieving about COVID-19.

Associated Student Government Vice President Deja Holland and vice president of the Program Board said these forums were necessary to help close the gaps in how the pandemic is negatively affecting communities of color. Holland, who is a nursing student at SBVC, said she has seen the distrust among her nursing student peers. 

“We saw that information was not relayed transparently from the last presidential administration and then understanding that medical-industrial complex hasn’t ever, for people of color, proven themselves trustworthy,” she said. “And so there are so many layers to this and we don’t really have these transparent conversations where we can bring our stories of what’s happened to us or what we’ve experienced in healthcare. We’re also trying to make sure (our community) has factual information so that, at the end of the day, they can make this judgment call with the right information in hand.”

The ultimate goal, according to Estrada, was to develop trust within the local community via sharing factual information and encourage individuals to get the vaccine, and ultimately help curb the virus. 

“A lot of our students are Hispanic – SBVC is a Hispanic-serving institution and this is an information piece that has not been addressed very well for the students at large, in the community or even in the nation,” she said. “So we want to provide a lens for this issue. When it comes to your health, it’s not just an individual, it’s a whole community. We want to make sure that the students and the community are informed so that they can share this information within their own homes and that communication can keep expanding.”

For more information about how to attend the COVID-19 forum series, or to watch past recordings, visit valleycollege.edu/covid-forums.

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