Addressing bias: visiting scholar Deleso Alford discusses cultural competence

When Deleso A. Alford visited Stetson law school’s Gulfport campus briefly this summer, she brought with her an important goal: collaboration.

Professor Deleso Alford visited Stetson law school in July.

Professor Deleso Alford visited Stetson law school in July.

The Florida A&M University law professor’s research and teaching focuses on building a framework for cultural competence through the lens of personal narratives that shapes the way we see and understand each other.

During her short time as a visiting scholar at Stetson, Professor Alford met with both administrative and law faculty; staff in the Veterans Advocacy Clinic, Center for Excellence in International Law, Office of Career Development; and spoke with student leaders. She videotaped an interview with Black Law Student Association student president Kaarl Brandon and conducted research at Stetson’s Dolly & Homer Hand Law Library.

During her Stetson visit, Professor Alford also met with University of South Florida Health leadership and faculty. Stetson and USF offer a dual degree program in law and public health, and Stetson’s Veterans Advocacy Clinic and USF Health are legal and health care advocacy partners who work together to improve access to veterans benefits.

Professor Alford holds J.D. and LL.M. degrees respectively from the Southern University Law Center and Georgetown University Law Center, and is currently seeking a Certificate in Clinical Bioethics from the Medical College of Wisconsin. She teaches law school courses on torts, race and the law, bioethics and the law, and critical race theory at Florida A&M. Professor Alford also serves on the adjunct faculty and co-directs integrated curriculum for the Culture, Health and Society Longitudinal Curricular Themes at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

Professor Alford explained how she uses the lens of both historical and “her-storical” narratives to improve students’ focus on abstract concepts. In her work in medical education, Professor Alford discussed how she illustrates the issue of healthcare disparity through the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge or permission to be used in experiments that led to decades of path-breaking medical discoveries for vaccines and other treatments. Lacks’ case ignited legal and ethical debates over a patient’s rights to their own genetic material. Professor Alford described how exposing medical students to the Lacks story builds a framework for ethics rooted in cultural competence. Medical students become more aware of what it means to treat a patient differently based on culture, race, sex or education. In the same way, Alford said that law students and members of the legal profession can improve their understanding of clients’ needs by enriching their own cultural competency.

“A culturally competent lawyer who practices cultural humility needs to accept and address bias,” said Alford, who disagrees with Justice Harlan stating in the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson that “our Constitution is colorblind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

“We have to deal with the notion of colorblindness in order to have cultural competency in the law,” said Alford. “We need culturally competent advocates.”

Professor Alford is the senior editor of the award-winning “Enslaved Women in America: An Encyclopedia,” and numerous articles. She is working on her forthcoming book, “Tuskegee’s Forgotten Women: The Untold Side of the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study.” Professor Alford has lectured around the world, in Brazil, England and most recently in Cuba where she also moderated a panel of Cuban lawyers and judges.