A deadly diagnosis

The University of Utah’s long commitment to commemorating the Holocaust continues Feb. 4-5, 2020, with “A Deadly Diagnosis.”

Each academic year, the U Remembers committee thoughtfully selects topics that draw parallels between ideologies during the Holocaust and modern social constructs. This has included youth-led resistance against injustice, the use of propaganda in politics, misrepresentation of religious communities and the normalization of non-heterosexual oppression.

“Every year we try to help educate the university community about different ways the Holocaust has impacted our current world experience,” said Maeera Shreiber (she/her), co-chair of the U Remembers committee and chair of the Jewish Studies Initiative. “This year we chose to focus on the experience of children with medical challenges during the Holocaust.”

The U Remembers 2020 theme, “A Deadly Diagnosis,” will explore traces from the Nazi worldview of othering found in medical and social realms today and how we can reflect on the harm these dynamics cause as we push forward into a more inclusive future.

This year’s keynote speaker will be Edith Sheffer, senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California-Berkeley and author of “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna.” Sheffer will be sharing her research on recent developments regarding Dr. Hans Asperger’s controversial role during the Holocaust.

Sheffer’s research topic led to a unique collaboration with the Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities’ Evening Ethics program—the first collaboration of its kind for U Remembers.

“This is an important topic to think about today for a variety of reasons,” said Brent Kious (he/him), assistant professor in psychiatry, adjunct assistant professor in philosophy and core faculty in the Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities at the School of Medicine. “While autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed more often than in the past and has led to increased services for many people, there has also been increasing resistance to the diagnosis. Especially from people—many of whom are said to have autism spectrum disorder—who challenge the idea that it represents an illness or abnormality.

“The origins of the diagnosis matter for how we think about autism today for a subtle but powerful reason. Although we would like to think the criteria for the diagnosis pick out a natural kind—a condition that exists in nature, waiting to be discovered—it is at least worth considering that the criteria are incidental, such that they would be different or wouldn’t even exist if history had been different.”

Jan. 27, 2020, marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and more than seven decades later, acts of othering and prejudice are increasingly common and, according to committee co-chair, Julie Ault, “Many of the marginalized groups the Nazis targeted remain among the most vulnerable today.”

“Fear and hatred take any number of forms,” said Ault. “Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise again in the United States and Europe. Discrimination against people with disabilities, the Roma and Sinti and the LGBTQ+ community all continue today.”

In hopes of addressing our campus climate and initiating an open dialogue with the U of U community, Mary Ann Villarreal, vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, will moderate a faculty panel on modern antisemitism and the dynamics of othering as the final 2020 U Remembers event. This multidisciplinary faculty will explore how their scholarship delves into the othering of communities and discuss how past and present forms of nationalism, nativist thought and othering leads to alienation, targeting and “identifying.”

“[As we] shift our attention toward an urgent concern facing us all, the recent rise of anti-Semitism and the troubling turn towards nativism currently threatening our collective commitment to an inclusive society,” urges Shreiber, “it is crucial that we recognize the extent to which Nazi ideology challenged our collective commitment to an inclusive society.”

All U Remembers events are free and open to the public. View the full schedule here.