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Brawley, Jones and White

Upstate to present three honorary degrees to racial justice and health equity pioneers

Upstate Medical University will present honorary doctoral degrees at Commencement on Sunday to three nationally renowned physicians who have dedicated their careers to advancing racial justice and health equity.

The three honorees are Otis W. Brawley, MD, MACP, FASCO, FACE; Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD; and Augustus A. White, III, MD, PhD. Upstate nominated Brawley, Jones and White, each of whom will receive a doctor of science degree from the State University of New York. The degrees will be presented at the College of Medicine Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 9.

The SUNY honorary degree process is vigorous and meticulous, explained Lynn Cleary, MD, vice president for academic affairs. Her office supports the Upstate Honorary Degree Committee, which consists of faculty members from Upstate’s four colleges and one Upstate student. The process starts nearly a year in advance with the committee inviting nominations from students, faculty and staff across the university and reviewing new nominees and a list of previously submitted names. The committee sends its recommendations to Upstate President Mantosh Dewan, MD, for approval before submitting to SUNY. There, the nominees are vetted by a committee and then voted on by the SUNY Board of Trustees and approved by the SUNY chancellor.

Orthopedic Surgeon Daryll Dykes, MD, PhD, JD, who is also chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Upstate along with Danielle Katz, MD, orthopedic surgeon and associate dean for graduate medical education, nominated White and Jones for the honorary degrees.

“The three individuals that we will honor this year are phenomenal scholars, educators and advocates,” Dykes said. “It is truly our honor to recognize these three leaders for their personal and professional accomplishments.”

Dykes noted that all three have made great contributions to racial and social justice, particularly facilitating much-needed conversations about equity in society and in health care.

“This year we are at this incredible crossroads of dialogue in this country around race, equity and justice,” he said. “All three of our awardees are giants and luminaries in this area of racial and health justice. All three of them are African-American, which is just phenomenal.”


The 2021 honorary degree recipients from Upstate are:

Augustus A. White, III, MD, PhD

 White is an internationally known physician, and a widely published authority on biomechanics of the spine, fracture healing and spinal care. For the past five decades, White has committed himself to issues of diversity, and is nationally recognized for his work in medical education and health care disparities. He was the first African American to graduate from Stanford Medical School in 1961 and became a surgical resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital in 1963. He has been a leading advocate for racial equality and cultural sensitivity training at Harvard, Brown University, Yale University and orthopedics nationally.

Dykes has known White for more than 15 years. He said White’s influence in his life and career has been the most influential of anyone he’s ever known. White was Dykes’ mentor when he was part of the Leadership Fellows Program of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, which is a highly competitive leadership program for orthopedic surgeons.

“It was the most transformative year of my entire life,” Dykes said. “Gus has this uncanny ability to talk with young people and recognize where they are and what their needs are. He is able to put people where they need to be in order to advance and that clearly happened with me.” 

When Dykes was weighing a career move, White asked him what he wanted his legacy to be.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Dykes said. He had recently talked with colleagues about high poverty rates and health disparities in his hometown of Syracuse. “After Gus said that to me there was no question in my mind that I had to come back here and dedicate a large portion of what I do to service in that capacity. Gus has been the most influential person in my trajectory.”


Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD

Camara Jones is a family physician, epidemiologist and past president of the American Public Health Association. Her work focuses on naming, measuring and addressing the impacts of racism on the health and well-being of the nation. Her work has sought to broaden the national health debate to include universal access to high quality health care and also increase attention to the social determinants of health and equity. She was an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health from 1994 to 2000, before being recruited to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000 to 2014, where she served as a medical officer and research director on social determinants of health and equity.

Dykes said he has known Jones professionally for several years. He described her as a giant in the space of health and racial equity.

“She is uniquely qualified to take complex phenomena that have extremely broad historical social, political and cultural implications and talk about them in ways that the average first grader would understand,” Dykes said. “She has converted some sensitive, controversial and taboo issues into discussions that have substantially moved the needle in this dialogue. She deserves incredible credit for her vision to be able to do that.”

Jones is a Presidential Visiting Fellow at the Yale School of Medicine in the Department of Medicine and the Office of Health Equity Research; will serve as the 2021-2022 UCSF Presidential Chair at the University of California San Francisco; and was the 2019-2020 Evelyn Green Davis Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.


Otis W. Brawley, MD, MACP, FASCO, FACE

Otis W. Brawley is a globally recognized expert in cancer screening, prevention and treatment, and the design of trials to assess them. His work focuses on how to close racial, economic and social inequities in the treatment of cancer. He worked at the National Cancer Institute as an oncologist and senior investigator as well as its director of the Office of Special Populations until 2001. From 2007 to 2018, Brawley was chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, where he oversaw the largest private program funding cancer research in the United States.

Brawley will attend Upstate’s Commencement ceremonies for the colleges of Medicine and Graduate Studies Sunday and will offer remarks for the graduates. White and Jones are not able to attend in person but will accept their awards virtually; Jones will deliver pre-recorded remarks Saturday to the colleges of Health Professions and Nursing.

For more information on Commencement, visit www.upstate.edu/currentstudents/campuslife/commencement.php


Caption: The three honorees are from left to right, Otis W. Brawley, MD, MACP, FASCO, FACE; Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD; and Augustus A. White, III, MD, PhD.