As part of the 2017 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security will host a panel discussion on how differences in language among cultures can affect the care African-American patients and families receive in health care settings.

The discussion will take place 9-11 a.m. Feb. 8 at the Kahn Auditorium of the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building. Those who want to attend must RSVP at

U-M Health System Security Director Perry Spencer said the discussion will explore how a lack of understanding of someone’s culture or the language used within someone’s culture can have a negative impact on the care they receive.

“Within the Health System, it’s our job as security to assist whenever there’s an escalating situation. From our experience we often find that there’s a pretty good percentage of those that are escalated because the two cultures involved were miscommunicating, weren’t understanding what the other one was trying to say because of the language,” Spencer said. “Even though we’re both speaking English, there’s a language barrier.”

Spencer said in some cultures, free expression in a “vibrant manner” is the norm while in others, those mannerisms are viewed as threats even though they’re not.

He said the panel discussion will touch on available tools and resources that can help people become more aware of their unconscious biases, and learn how to recognize and handle situations in which they do not understand someone else. 

“One of the big problems within the African-American community … was the health disparities within the African-American community and we see where this inability to communicate can lead to a health outcome that contributes to that disparity,” Spencer said.

“We hope to get an increased awareness of the barriers to a positive health outcome that language creates or the language of different cultures within our community creates,” Spencer said. “And start the discussion, open dialogue about what we can do to overcome those barriers.”

Panelists include Police Officer Maureen Burke, Health System Security Sgt. Darric Terry, Nichole Burnside, patient and family centered care family adviser, and Nada Farhat, pharmacy resident and adjunct clinical instructor in the College of Pharmacy. The discussion will be moderated by Marlanna Landeros, DPSS program manager for diversity, equity and inclusion.