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Grief, Recovery, and Social Justice in the Wake of COVID-19: A Medical Humanities Conference

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Event Details:

Please join us at this 2-day Medical Humanities conference that will take place on May 19-20, 2023.

Friday, May 19, 2023: 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm PT
Saturday, May 20, 2023: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm PT
Reception to follow for each day.


Through a series of panels by international and Stanford speakers we will discuss the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for society today, as well as ways to find a sense of tragedy and hope for the future. Artists, practitioners, and scholars will come together to converse about these issues and to find the most human aspects of such a historic medical crisis and its aftermath.

Sponsored by: Stanford Humanities Seed Grant, Medicine and the Muse, Stanford H&S Dean's Office, and the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages (DLCL).

For more information, email Laura Wittman ( and Sergio Martinez Rey (

Friday 19 May (Medical School, MSOBX303)

Friday 19 May, 2:30-3:45 pm

“Death, grief, and recovery in Covid Times: Practices and Challenges”

Christy Hartman (Stanford Medicine Medical Humanities and the Arts), Chair

Shireen Heidari (Stanford Palliative Medicine)
“Reflective Writing as a Tool for Healing: Creating Spaces for Vulnerability in Medicine”

Michèle Lévy-Soussan (Pitie Salpêtrière Hospital)
“Healing with our ghosts: How to think mourning for health professionals? Storytelling as a healing process. The journey and its remembrance.”

Michelle Chang (UCLA Psychiatry)
“#StopSanQuentinOutbreak: Incarceration as the Pandemic”




Friday 19 May, 4:15-5:30 pm

“Death, grief, and recovery in Covid Times: Activism”

Sergio M. Rey, and João G. L. Viana (both Stanford Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages), Chairs

Kristin Urquiza (Disaster and Equity Advocate)

Sarah Senk (Department of Culture and Communication at California State University Maritime Academy)

Ximena Briceño (Stanford Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages)

“Marked by Covid Memorial Matrix: Bearing Witness and Archiving as Political Action”

A Conversation about Covid, Grief, and Activism


Reception at CCSR Atrium


Saturday 20 May (Medical School, MSOBX303)

Breakfast at CCSR Atrium

Saturday 20 May, 10:00-11:45 am

“Social justice and bias in Covid Times"

Isabela Fraga (Stanford Humanities Center), Chair

Jean-Cassien Billier (Sorbonne Université, Philosophy)
“Is there a duty to remember the victims of epidemics?”

Karine Berthelot-Guiet (Sorbonne Université, CELSA)
“Questions of Ethics, Questions of Communication”

Laura Wittman (Stanford Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages)
“Solidarity, Pandemics, and the Narratives of Others”

Rona Hu (Stanford Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences)
“Mind over Media: Theatre and Medical Humanities against Discrimination, Stigma, Bullying, and Suicide”


Lunch at CCSR Atrium


Saturday 20 May, 2:30-4:30 pm

“Death, grief, and recovery after Covid: Artist and Practitioner Conversations”

Luo Jia (Stanford Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages), Chair

Audrey Shafer (Medicine and the Muse Founder & Stanford and VA Anesthesiology)
“Reflections on Being Essential”

Melanie Ambler (Stanford School of Medicine)
“When COVID brings out the music in us all”

Catherine Fairbanks (Artist & UCLA Nursing)
“Glazing at the End of Life”

Jacqueline Genovese (Stanford Medicine, Medical Humanities and Arts Program)
“Apart-Together: The COVID19 Remembrance Project”


Reception at CCSR Atrium


Painting flowers with Jacqueline Genovese
“Telling COVID Stories One Petal at a Time”


Participant bios:

Melanie Ambler
Melanie Ambler is a second-year medical student at Stanford School of Medicine, a classical cellist and aspiring physician-artist. She grew up in Redding, CT and attended Brown University, earning a degree in Neurobiology with honors in 2019. She then moved to Caen, France on a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue a master’s in Neuroscience and study the effect of music on patients with dementia. She currently plays weekly virtual concerts for critically ill patients as an “on call” musician with the non-profit, Project: Music Heals Us and hopes to continue integrating the arts into her medical and research career. Melanie is the recipient of the 2022 Stanford Graduate Student Music Prize. She has been a member of the Rains Quartet, under the direction of cellist Christopher Costanza, since 2021. They just recently received the 2023 Stanford Chamber Music Prize and frequently perform on campus and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Karine Berthelot-Guiet
Karine Berthelot-Guiet, Doctor in linguistics (Ph.D.), and Accreditated to supervise research in Information and communication sciences now is full professor of Information and communication sciences, Dean of CELSA Sorbonne Université, graduate school for higher studies in communication and journalism of Sorbonne University. She is also former Director of the CELSA research group, GRIPIC (Interdisciplinary Reaserach Group on Information and Communication processes). She is part of Sorbonne University Board of Directors and Senior Jury of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is part of scientific commitees of major French speaking and European peer reviewed journals in Communication sciences. Since 2019 she is head of human sciences research of SIRIC CURAMUS-Cancer United Research Associating Medicine, University & Society. Curamus - that aims to bring together and promote the synergy of its multidisciplinary teams around the AP-HP.SORBONNE UNIVERSITY hospital-university group in order to accelerate research and innovation in cancerology to improve care for the benefit of patients

Jean-Cassien Bilier
Jean-Cassien Billier is Associate Professor in Ethics and Political Philosophy in the Philosophy Department of Sorbonne University; he is also professor of ethics at Sciences Po Paris. He participated in the creation of the Master in Medical Humanities at Sorbonne University. His fields of specialisation are ethics (normative ethics, metaethics, applied ethics) and philosophy of law. Among his main publications: Kant et le kantisme (Paris, Armand Colin, 1998), Le Pouvoir (Paris, Armand Colin, 2000); Histoire de la philosophie du droit (Paris, Armand Colin, 2001) ; Introduction à l'éthique (Paris, PUF, 2010). He has held numerous administrative responsibilities at Sorbonne University, notably as special advisor of the President. He chaired a consortium of nine French universities providing a university programme in Russia, which has been suspended since the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine. He is now in charge of the cooperation of the Faculty of Arts of Sorbonne University with Ukraine.

Ximena Briceño
Ximena Briceño is Lecturer of Latin American literature and culture at the Department of Iberian and Latin American Cultures at Stanford. She is coordinator of the research group materia on de-anthropocentric thought at Stanford since 2014. She has been a research fellow at the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut in Berlin. Her teaching and writing areas include Andean and Latin American literatures and film, animality theories and cultural consumption. Her most recent publications focuses on animality, materiality, loss and melancholia.

Michelle Chang
Michelle Chang (she/her) graduated from Stanford University, where she co-founded an abolitionist zine, the Prison Renaissance Zine Project, alongside incarcerated artists and undergraduate students. She then completed a Fulbright Research grant in Norway, studying sociocultural factors relevant to collective grief. Michelle is now a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at UCLA. Her research interests lie in racial disparities in the burden of loss and grief over the lifetime, as well as the intergenerational grieving practices that communities of color engage in to tend to loss through a healing justice framework.

Catherine Fairbanks
Catherine Fairbanks, an artist and a nurse, received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2010 and has since attended national and international residencies, including the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the National Textile Institute in Iceland, where she produced her solo exhibition Empathomimesis, and the Wool Factory in Barcelona. A recent important and ground-shifting work for Fairbanks was the premier of A Chimney Dances.

Jacqueline Genovese
Jacqueline Genovese holds an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction Writing and a master’s degree in Medical Humanities. She leads a literature and medicine series at Stanford Hospital for physicians and at VA San Francisco for health professionals and teaches writing and literature for Stanford students who are veterans or military-affiliated. During COVID19 shelter in place order, she teamed with Dr. Bryant Lin to create the Stanford Medicine Stuck@Home Concert series, and the Apart-Together COVID19 Remembrance Project. She also led the creation of a weekly  MedMuse 4 U update. These projects were all recognized with Circle of Excellence Gold, Silver and Broze awards by CASE. As Executive Director of the Medicine and the Muse Program in medical humanities and the arts at the Stanford School of Medicine, she develops, creates and coordinates multiple events, workshops and multidisciplinary education initiatives. She was the co-lead on Frankenstein@200, a campus wide initiative recognizing the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. She is a writer for Scopeblog and a member of the Stanford WellMD/PhD committee. She has presented at numerous conferences on her work at the intersection of literature, the military and medicine, including most recently at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Air Force Academy. She is co-author of an article with Dr. Jonathan Berek that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, titled, Can Arts and Communications Improve Physician Wellness and Mitigate Physician Suicide? Jacqueline received the Stanford School of Medicine Inspiring Change Leadership Award, the Stanford University Amy J. Blue Award,  and an Award of Appreciation from the Stanford Undergraduate Veteran's Association

Rona Hu
Rona J. Hu MD is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.  She was Medical Director of the Acute Inpatient Unit at Stanford Hospital from 1998-2018, and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of Medicine 2020-2022.  Her daily work is caring for patients and teaching medical students and residents, including in person in the hospital during the COVID pandemic.  She has received national recognition from the American Psychiatric Association for her teaching, clinical care, and advocacy work.  

Dr. Hu's interests in the intersection of Medicine with the Arts and Humanities includes founding an internationally acclaimed theatre group called CHIPAO (Communication Health Interactives for Parents of Adolescents and Others) in response to suicide risk in teens, advising for Netflix series "13 Reasons Why", advising, writing and acting for "The Manic Monologues" nominated for Best Digital Theatre 2021 by Broadway World and performed on four continents, advising and acting in "Mariposa" a federally funded Spanish language telenovela to decrease stigma surrounding mental health issues, advising and acting in chamber music ensemble Musikiwest in an innovative anti-bullying campaign, and most recently helping in the wake of a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay affecting immigrant Chinese and Latino farmworkers, with both memorials for the victims and healing for the survivors.  

Michèle Levy-Soussan
- Internist, Director of Palliative Care, University Hospital la Pitié Salpêtriere, Paris France.
- Research Associate, Laboratoire Sorbone Université « Sciences Norme Démocratie ».
- Co-director of Ethics and Patient care at the Humanities in Medicine Center of Sorbonne University.

Shireen Heidari
Shireen Heidari, MD is a palliative care physician, teacher, and storyteller. She works as part of the inpatient palliative care team providing complex symptom management and support for patients and families facing any stage of a serious illness. Dr. Heidari is the program director for the Stanford University Hospice and Palliative Fellowship. She has written about the importance of human connection and stigma around healthcare workers seeking help for their mental health in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, and The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. She hopes to continue being part of this conversation as we advocate for culture change in medicine. Outside of her clinical and mentorship work, she is likely reading fiction, writing creatively, or outside chasing her border collie.

Jürgen Pieters
Jürgen Pieters is professor of literary theory at Ghent University (Belgium). His most recent book publication is Literature and Consolation. Fictions of Comfort (Edinburgh University Press, 2021, paperback 2023). Previous book-publications include Speaking with the dead. Explorations in Literature and History (Edinburgh University Press, 2007) and Shakespeare. Auteur voor alle seizoenen (Lannoo, 2016). He is currently working on a new book on bibliotherapy and reading as self-care.

Sarah Senk
Sarah Senk is an Associate Professor in the Department of Culture and Communication at California State University Maritime Academy and Memorial Matrix Team Lead. A scholar in the field of Memory Studies, her research and teaching focuses on the impact and representation of trauma and anxiety in contemporary literature and visual culture. More recently, Senk has written on the National 9/11 Memorial Museum and other societal responses to mass trauma. In addition to her academic work, her essays have appeared in Slate, The American Prospect, and The Washington Post.

Audrey Shafer
Audrey Shafer, MD is Professor Emerit of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine / Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System; founder, Stanford Medicine & the Muse Program, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics; founder, Biomedical Ethics and Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration; and co-founder of Pegasus Physician Writers. She completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard University, medical school at Stanford, anesthesiology training at University of Pennsylvania, and research fellowship at Stanford. She is the author of The Mailbox, a children’s novel on posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans. Her poetry has been published in journals and anthologies.

Kristin Urquiza
Kristin Urquiza, MPA is the nation’s top disaster equity advocate, with expertise in racial, economic, environmental, and health policy. After the death of her father to COVID, Urquiza co-founded Marked By COVID, the nation’s foremost community-led COVID justice and remembrance movement with hubs in 12 states. Urquiza holds a B.A. from Yale University and an MPA from U.C. Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and has been trailblazing for twenty years with innovators like former Congressman Henry Waxman, Angela Glover Blackwell, and U.S. PIRG.