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Diversity's Pathway/Sendero de la diversidad, four ceramic bas-relief murals including the ceramic tile frieze, and cement sidewalk. An original work owned and commissioned by the University of California, San Francisco. Ambulatory Care Clinic, UCSF Medical Center, 400 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA, © 2005. Photo: Anobel Odisho ©2005.


This suite of four murals, including a cementitious tile walkway designed and produced by muralist Juana Alicia celebrates and symbolizes diversity within the concept of unity, and the notion that dualities promote a holistic, vibrant, and ever-changing world.

 With a focus on the special history of UCSF, the murals represent healing traditions worldwide; community cooperation; the internal work we do to heal ourselves; and the social, political, and evolutionary movements that have brought about diversity. Collectively, the images emphasize the unique efforts of UCSF’s students, janitors, staff, and faculty to maintain, promote and celebrate diversity.

There are five elements in this suite of murals. 


Lower West Wall

This panel is a celebration of the complement of opposites, of unity in diversity. Ollin means movement, earthshaking, or change in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The icon is found in the Aztec Calendar Stone and symbolizes the struggle for balance and unity through its symmetrical design of equal opposites. The large wave pattern in this mural is a loose interpretation of the traditional Ollin symbol, combined with the mathematical model of an orthogonal oscillation. An orthogonal oscillation is used to describe similar phenomena regarding the unity of opposites in mathematics: “of or relating to a matrix whose transpose equals its inverse.”[1] The cowry shells at the center represent prosperity, fertility and power in cultures ranging from West Africa to Japan to Mesoamerica to Egypt and Greece. The quote from Chancellor J. Michael Bishop’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech brings together the common value of creativity from two very different contexts: science and jazz.


Upper West Wall


This panel depicts healing traditions from many cultures and celebrates relationship and interdependence as key to our survival and prosperity. The protagonists of this panel are pairs (fully or partially seen), further emphasizing the importance of our relationships (upper left to lower right):



The hand of an elder sprinkles corn pollen on the head of a young woman. This represents the traditional Apache rite of passage for young girls, where they are initiated by elders with a blessings ceremony and four days of dancing, running and singing. The ceremonies bring them strength and health and help them to embrace their role as healers and as women of the Apache nation.


The central figures are a doctor listening to a young patient’s heartbeat.  The child’s t-shirt bears the Sanskrit symbol for the body’s fourth chakra, or sacred center, the heart. The pediatrician wears the cowry shells seen in the Ollin mural.


On our ever-shrinking globe, people the world over share the same climate, air, and water, and are prone to the same threats of epidemics and pandemics. This image represents UCSF's commitment to global health.”
Dr. Haile Debas

Haile T. Debas, MD, is recognized internationally for his contributions to academic medicine and is widely consulted on issues associated with global health. At the University of California, San Francisco, he served as the Founding Executive Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences (2003-2010), Dean of the School of Medicine (1993-2003), Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs for six years, and Chancellor for one year.


The hand of a traditional practitioner inserts needles into the patient’s outer ear, to balance the body’s flow of energy, or qi. Qi, a fundamental concept in Chinese culture and common among many Asian cultures, is the creative or formative principle associated with life and all processes that characterize living entities.



This adinkra or symbol comes from the Asante people of West Africa. It represents democracy and unity. The Siamese crocodiles share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular symbol is a reminderthat infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it.


Upper East Wall


The strike mural celebrates the actions that took place at UCSF in 1968 in support of civil rights, labor rights and peace. Staff, students, and faculty participated in the worldwide movement for equality, peace, and democracy.

At UCSF, both janitors and students staged separate strikes simultaneously: the former for better working conditions as well as affirmative action/campus diversity; the latter in protest of the United States’ bombing of Cambodia. UCSF and Stanford medical, dental, pharmacy and nursing students in white lab coats marched on San Francisco’s City Hall to demand a halt to the war in Southeast Asia.

The imagery in this panel reflects the suite’s on-going motif of wave/theory images, using the symbol for a damped oscillation as a metaphor for social justice actions. The damped oscillation represents a strong movement that has an initially strong impact on the system, but then dissipates as the system regains equilibrium.

Notable figures in the struggle for and progress towards diversity at UCSF are depicted in the mural:

  • Pop Nelson, lead organizer of the Basement Workers’ Strike. The term “basement workers” referred to the majority Black and Latinx workers that were prohibited from using the cafeterias and restrooms in the hospitals, restricted to using only facilities those located in the basement areas.

  • Chancellor Philip R. Lee. As Chancellor of UCSF in 1969, Lee helped encourage the development of strong affirmative-action programs, making the University a national leader with respect to the proportion of minority student enrollment.

  • Michael Adams, Director, Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Office, facilitator and former Co- Chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on Diversity

  • Dr. John Watson, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, UCSF, Founder of the Summer Research Training Program

  • Dr. Mary Ann Koda-Kimble, Dean of the School of Pharmacy

The following is a short history of the Basement Workers’ Strike, which was the historical impetus for major changes, and ultimately, this work of art:

The Black Caucus organized on May 4, 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Along with other interested groups, the Black Caucus demanded an equal working environment and was also the catalyst that changed the admissions policies of the professional schools to form a more diverse student population. Specifically, in 1968, the Black Caucus successfully brought demands to the Administration which resulted in reclassification of janitors to custodians, consecutive days off for some employees for the first time, employee choice of compensatory time off or pay for holiday work, access to all campus public restrooms, more equitable personnel policies, access to personnel policies, and a campus commitment to minority student recruitment and support services and to a 25% admission goal for minority (identified as Black, Brown and Red) students. Slowly, during the 70’s when the Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Department reported directly to the Chancellor, the number of African Americans working at UCSF grew, more were being hired into research labs and administrative positions.


The frieze that spans the length of the building and separates the first and second floors comprises one hundred tiles of twenty different images, each of which repeats five times. These healing tools from many different cultures include instruments, symbols, and herbs. The text that accompanies each image describes these tools within the context of the culture or healing system or systems in which they are used. This publication neither endorses nor advocates such uses. The tiles are described in the order in which they appear in the frieze.


The father of microscopy, Anton van Leeuwenhoek of Holland, started as an apprentice in a dry goods store where magnifying glasses were used to count the threads in cloth. He taught himself new methods for grinding and polishing tiny lenses of great curvature, which led to building the microscopes and making the biological discoveries for which he is famous. He was the first to see and describe bacteria, yeast plants, the teeming life in a drop of water, and the circulation of blood corpuscles in capillaries.[2]

Used worldwide since ancient times, ginseng is believed to strengthen vitality, memory, libido, longevity and the body’s ability to cope with stress.

Indigenous to North America, Echinacea has been used  to treat infections, inflammation, colds, flu, snake bites and even cancer. As an immune system tonic, it is used to rebuild tissues, treat fevers and inhibit the growth of tumors.

Mushroom Goddess
This pre-Columbian representation of teonanácatl, or flesh of the gods, symbolizes the psilocybin mushrooms sacred to many peoples of Mesoamerica. This goddess comes from the ancient Oaxacan cultures of southern Mexico, and represents the insights and healing sought by ingesting the mushrooms.


Corn and corn silk have been used as a demulcent and diuretic. It is believed to lower blood pressure and have a beneficial effect on the kidneys. Native Americans have used it as a poultice for burns, bruises and boils.


Digitalis, derived from the foxglove plant, has been described in the medical literature for over 200 years. It is a drug that strengthens the contraction of the heart muscle, slows the heart rate and helps eliminate fluid from body tissues. It's often used to treat congestive heart failure and is also used to treat certain arrhythmias.[i]


A milagro or ex-voto is a small talisman worn by the faithful as an offering for healing. They adorn saints throughout Spain and Latin America, and are usually small amulets made from tin, silver, or gold. If someone wishes to be healed from an injury, one wears the symbol of that part of the body as a plea for its recovery. This tile represents hand and heart, the sources of healing for the artist.


Garlic is said to purify the blood, control acne, and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and clotting. There is also some evidence of antibiotic effect against pathogens. [ii]

Chinese Reflexology

This tile depicts traditional Chinese medicine’s system of organ reflexology that is predicated on the belief that areas of the feet correspond to specific organs. Healing of specific problems as well as the whole body can be affected through gentle pressure on these areas.

Yin Yang

The yin yang symbol or tai-chi comes from the I-Ching, one of the cornerstones of ancient Chinese philosophy. Derived from observations of celestial movements of the seasons, it symbolizes the flow of opposites into each other. Yin (dark, feminine, cold, inward) and Yang (sunny, masculine, warm, outward) consume and support one another.  No one principle dominates eternally so all conditions are subject to change into their opposites.


The maguey or agave cactus, which is native to Mexico, is a symbol of strength, resilience, resistance, creativity and fertility in both ancient myth and the modern Chicana/o movement. It is the source of pulque, tequila, medicinal honey and healing poultices for burns and injuries to the skin. In ancient Aztec mythology, the maguey was represented Mayahuel, the goddess of textiles and creativity.


The ginkgo tree is native to China, but now grows in many parts of the world. The leaves and seeds are used in Chinese medicine for lung problems. Its healing properties are said to be as a circulatory tonic and stimulant, an antioxidant, antiallergenic and anti-inflammatory. It is also said to improve brain efficiency resulting in increase in memory.


The jewel in the lotus” is the translation of the universal compassion mantra “Om Mani Padne Hum.” While it has many meanings, one explanation of its symbolism is that compassion arises when the jewel of the mind rests in the lotus of the heart. The awakened mind has a diamond-like clarity. When this clear insight rests in the heart’s tender compassion, both dimensions of liberation are fulfilled. [3]

California Poppy

Used by Native Californians to ameliorate the pain of toothache, the California poppy is used to normalize psychological function, and has gained popularity in Europe for overcoming bedwetting, nervous tension, anxiety, hyperactivity, and insomnia, particularly in children.

Dental Caduceus

The dental version of the standard medical caduceus -- the staff of Asclepius -- is a staff twined with one snake and a wreath of victory, and is the symbol of all who maintain and repair  teeth.

Haitian and West African Medicine Bags

These bags are representative of the magical healing traditions of Haitian and West African (Yoruba) cultures. They contain sacred, often secret, objects from the natural world and representations of the orishas (deities) that bring power to the bearer.


The word sage comes from the Latin, salvare, to cure. There are many different Salvia species with distinct healing properties and uses. These range from regulating menstruation to assisting in the digestion of fatty foods to helping heal bruises and reduce inflammation.  In spiritual practice, it has long been used to bless and clear the environment of negative forces.


This tile is an homage to music. Music is a unifying principle across the chasms of culture, politics, language, and geography. Entering the body through our ears, it resounds through our bones and cartilage, natural tuning forks. It is a beautiful expression of our diversity and a healing force in the universe.


Native to Asia, ginger has many healing properties, and is used as an antiemetic (for motion sickness), to aid digestion, as a circulatory stimulant, and anti-inflammatory. A delicious spice, ginger warms and soothes the respiratory systems and inhibits coughing.

Mayan Eternity Symbol

Mayan legends tell of a snake at the center of the universe. This symbol for eternity, the circle without end, is represented by a snake with its tail in its mouth. The snake is a sacred symbol for the Earth itself, and similar representations can be found in Chinese culture as well.


The Helix Pathway connects the UCSF Medical Center to its community, running from the Outpatient Clinic Building to the bus stop on Parnassus Avenue. It is the symbolic and physical expression of our diversity: genetic, intellectual, cultural, and medical. The inlaid DNA molecule is shown in the process of replication, a moment of growth and creation. In many ways it is the symbol for the future of life on earth. I use it here to connect us and to celebrate the diversity of humanity and the natural world.


[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.







[ii]  Herbs. Leslie Bremnes

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