News, On Campus

Panelists Discuss Inequities in Health Care Treatment for Black and Brown Men

For men of color, there is an ever-present fear of receiving subpar health care treatment, according to Keith Mascoll, an actor, producer, and mental health advocate.

“We do understand systems of care were not created for men, especially not created for Black and brown men,” Mascoll said. “There is a lot of fear there, there’s a lot of lost trust, historically, around health care.”

On Tuesday night, the Boston College Connell School of Nursing (CSON) and the School of Social Work held a panel discussing the physical health of Black and brown men as part of a three-day series titled “Empowering Wellness: A Journey Through Mental and Physical Health in Black and Brown Communities.”

According to Richard Lee, a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated health disparities within Black and brown communities.

“What we learned from COVID was really a problem of access,” Lee said. “One of the things that really made me think a lot was the incredible disparity in death rates from prostate cancer in Black compared to white men—it’s about double the death rate.”

Leah Gordon, CSON associate dean for inclusive excellence, diversity, and belonging, said the disparity in fatalities reflects a disparity in preventative care.

“With all of these cancers, we as a Black community are diagnosed later and unfortunately succumb to these diagnoses,” Gordon said. “I feel that I can serve as a beacon to help our community understand the importance of the help that they need.” 

According to Gordon, there is a push for educators in the medical field to include diversity, equity, and inclusion in their curriculum.

“We talked about diversifying the nursing profession, but the population is diversifying faster than the profession,” Gordon said. “We need to empower all of our students—specifically our white students—to be very much prepared to take care of our patients with cultural humility.”

Lee shared similar concerns and said promoting diversity initiatives could make health care more welcoming.

“We have populations of folks who are fearful—that’s a concern,” Lee said. “That’s what we’re interested in—trying to promote education, information, wellness, for people and patients to be advocates for themselves.”

Mascoll said many Black and brown men do not adequately take care of their mind, body, and spirit. Specifically, many Black and brown men refuse to get rectal prostate exams due to the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding the procedure, he said.

“We create a lot of anxiety around [the prostate exam], and what that means, and that part of the body,” Mascoll said. “We have created so much anxiety that is attached to manhood, that of course we’re feeling the way we are about it. Why does it have to be traumatic? It’s about health.”

Mascoll urged Black and brown men to push back against the stereotype that self-care is emasculating.

“Define your manhood,” Mascoll said. “Understand where you learned it from and who you learned it from, and understand that that’s their narrative, not yours.”

To combat healthcare disparities, providers should seek to build therapeutic relationships with their clients, Gordon said.

“Spending the time with my patients, getting to know who they are, talking to them about side effects of their treatment, managing the sexual health aspects of their treatment—things like that, so that people know that I’m invested in them, is really an important piece,” Gordon said.

Closing out the panel, Gordon offered a vision of what the future of health care could mean for Black and brown men.

“A healthy Black man [or] brown man would be radiating and glowing because they feel confident in the providers that are taking care of them, they feel confident in the medical advice that’s provided to them, and they also know that they can work in a space with their providers to negotiate,” Gordon said.

March 22, 2024