BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The intersection of blackness and U.S. Healthcare was a major theme for this year’s
annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Teach-In. Dr. Stephanie A. Whyte helped spearhead
the conversation as she delivered her keynote address entitled “COVID 19: The great
disruptor” on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. The Teach-In was free and open
to the public and can be watched here.
Dr. Stephanie A. Whyte is a 1991 Illinois Wesleyan Graduate and 2015 recipient of
the University’s Distinguished Alumna Award. Furthermore, she is a board-certified
pediatrician, author, and media spokesperson with a bachelor’s in Biology from Illinois
Wesleyan University and an M.D. from Chicago Medical School (from which she received
another Distinguished Alumna Award in 2013). Additionally, Dr. Whyte also holds an
MBA in Public and Nonprofit Management from Saint Xavier University. Now, having also
served as Chicago’s first Chief Health Officer for Chicago Public Schools previously,
Dr. Whyte is a Senior Solutions Medical Director at Aetna Medicaid.
The virtual presentation followed by a Q&A segment covered a range of topics, beginning
with her Journey as a first-generation college student, but soon tackling numerous
issues concerning diversity and discrimination in the workplace, academic settings,
and especially healthcare environments.
Specifically, Dr. Whyte began her presentation by briefly outlining her path to Wesleyan
and how she became the first Chief Health Officer for the CPS District. Whyte described
how she had a few inspirational mentors growing up, so she was always certain she
wanted to pursue the medical field. She came to IWU as a Pre-med Biology major, and
successfully completed her degree despite some disheartening experiences during her
time as an undergraduate. After she graduated, Whyte earned her M.D. from CMS and
completed her residency in pediatrics at Louisiana State Medical Center. Soon after,
she began working at the Mobile CARE Foundation, a non-profit organization in the
city of Chicago. She explained that she began to enjoy the business side of the organization
as much as providing asthma care and education to kids across the city. She completed
her MBA by taking local college courses, emphasizing in her talk that she had to learn
to “pivot and embrace what the next thing was.” Shortly thereafter, she went to the
CPS District and began her new role of Chief Health Officer.
With her presentation falling on Inauguration Day, Whyte addressed her enthusiasm
about the historic day and the new Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.
With a similar background to Harris, Whyte spoke about pioneering and the difficult
road ahead for the new Vice President. She connected this to her time at IWU, speaking
about representation and her experience interviewing Wesleyan’s first minority director.
In the Q&A portion of the presentation, a larger conversation about activism and race
emerged. Whyte described some of the hardships she faced during her undergraduate
career, specifically with her advisor. During her time at Wesleyan, her advisor heavily
underestimated her potential and even discouraged her from pursuing biology and medicine.
When Whyte got accepted into the Pre-med program at CMS, the program Director showed
her the letter of recommendation her advisor sent in. The letter openly stated that
the advisor did not recommend her for that program because he believed she could not
withstand the rigors of medical school. Whyte described that while she was very hurt
from this experience, it did not steer her away from achieving her larger goals. She
spoke of resilience and being open to uncomfortable situations because that is when
she grew the most. In terms of activism, Whyte explained that the main goal is to
be authentic and transparent in task, and to demand authenticity and compromise from
others. Whyte finished her presentation with words of encouragement for pre-med students,
speaking about the importance of being passionate and willing to pivot in an ever-evolving
Held annually, the Teach-In honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spoke at Illinois
Wesleyan in 1961 and 1966, his only visits to the Bloomington-Normal community.