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Sodeke, Robinson among health inequities panelists at upcoming regional conference

March 27, 2019

Contact: Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Dr. Stephen Sodeke and Dr. Jontyle Robinson
Sodeke and Robinson

Tuskegee University faculty members Dr. Stephen Sodeke and Dr. Jontyle Robinson will provide perspectives on public health inequities rooted in medical racism as part of a panel at the 89th Annual Southern States Communication Association Convention.

Set against the backdrop of central Alabama’s place in the U.S. civil rights movement, the convention, to be held April 3-7 in Montgomery, Alabama, will examine topics relating to its theme, “Conflict and Crisis at the Crossroads of Change.”

Sodeke is a resident bioethicist in the Center for Biomedical Research, professor of bioethics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a seasoned contributor to the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University. He and Robinson, curator of the Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University and the co-founder of the Alliance of HBCU Museums and Galleries, will serve on a four-person panel entitled, “Engaging the Legacy of Tuskegee: A Community Conversation.” The panel, moderated by Dr. Emily Winderman, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Towers, will explore issues of commemoration, bioethics and medical practice in the wake of the “United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male in Macon Country from 1932-1972.”

Other panelists will include integrative medicine internist Dr. Iris L. Davis, who has worked extensively in primary care medicine, HIV/AIDS and geriatrics during her 30-plus-year career; and Dr. John Lynch, who as an associate professor of communication at the University of Cincinnati has studied the rhetorical and ethical features of scientific and medical discourses. They, along with Sodeke and Robinson, will consider the study as a specific historical crisis as they consider present-day challenges for full equality and human dignity in medicine, and as they share their observations of communication’s role in ameliorating the historical injustices of medical racism and misconduct.

In addition to Sodeke and Robison, the university will be represented by students whose conference presentations will underscore the event’s theme and Tuskegee’s role in contemporary issues related to race, education and communication. These include presentations by:

Courtney Peavy, an English and communication double-major, on “The Impact of Study/Traveling Abroad on African American College Students,” under the category of “Conflict and Crisis in Diversity Communication”

Trenyce Williams, a psychology major, on “Black Representation in the Television and Film Industry,” under the category of “Crossroads of Change in Media Studies: Film”

Both Tuskegee University’s National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care and the Legacy Museum seek to transform the legacy of the “United States Public Health Service Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” by addressing ethical and human rights issues in science, health and social justice — particularly as they impact people of color.

The study, which spanned 1932 to 1972, is the longest and the most immoral health and medical treatment study ever conducted in U.S. history. This non-therapeutic study of the progress of untreated syphilis in human beings recruited poor African-American men living in rural Tuskegee and Macon County, Alabama, by keeping them uninformed of their syphilis status and untreated for the disease — all without their informed consent.

Naturally, the physical mistreatment and non-treatment for syphilis contributed to generational health problems, as well as ill feelings and mistrust by the families in these communities. And, it continues to impact how and why African-Americans and other minorities are reluctant to participate in clinical studies and biomedical research. The National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care was established in January 1999 as a partial response to the apology by President William J. Clinton for the study.

The Southern States Communication Association promotes the study, criticism, research, teaching and application of the artistic, humanistic and scientific principles of communication.

For additional information about SSCA or its upcoming conference, visit

© 2019, Tuskegee University