A Year of Firsts: Reflections on our School’s DEI Journey

Our collective efforts during the past 12 months since the tragic death of George Floyd have led to an array of firsts in the diversity, equity and inclusion space that will strengthen and support the mission and vision of our school, our campus and our health system.

“Healing begins where the wound was made.” – Alice Walker

This week, we mark a year since the tragic death of George Floyd. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident, and unrest, conflict and hate have continued to feature prominently in national events over the last 12 months – numerous additional shootings of unarmed Black men and women, the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and the continued targeting of our Asian American and Pacific Islander colleagues as a result of the pandemic, to name just a few.

However, the events of May 25, 2020, also created a national inflection point in our nation’s meandering journey toward justice and equality for all. You don’t have to look any further than our own campus to see how we – with consistently broad input as well as invaluable perspective offered by our students – have leaned into this time of turmoil with the hope of leveraging it to build a foundation for triumph. Our collective efforts have led to an array of firsts in the diversity, equity and inclusion space that will strengthen and support the mission and vision of our school, our campus and our health system.

Building DEI Infrastructure

  • Collaborated on and completed a school-level DEI statement
  • Created the School of Medicine’s inaugural senior associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion role
  • Launched the school’s first DEI website
  • Established the School of Medicine’s Inclusion Council, which represents key stakeholders in our school and community
  • Designated a non-denominational prayer space for students and trainees on the MCV campus

Impacting Climate and Culture

  • Removed campus icons commemorating events, people and places with historical ties to racism or other forms of discrimination
  • Installed panels commemorating the East Marshall Street Well Project in the Kontos Medical Sciences Building
  • Hosted town halls by the VCU Health System and VCU health sciences schools focused on advancing DEI
  • Removed the legacy checkbox on M.D. applications

Developing Programs and Practices

  • Added a crucial conversations panel and break-out discussions during new medical student orientation
  • Incorporated DEI into the annual Medical School Curriculum Review
  • Received Dean Buckley’s endorsement of an “Out List” resource to support LGBTQIA+ faculty and staff
  • Established a medical education work group to address the naming of academic societies and to conduct a curriculum review regarding racism, bias, diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Launched the annual DEI lecture, with the first keynote being delivered by Dr. Geoffrey Young, senior director for student affairs and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges
  • Administered a DEI environmental scan for administrative units in the School of Medicine
  • Incorporated DEI perspectives and strategies into the virtual residency recruitment process
  • Joined the University of Virginia’s Stepping-In Collaborative to Address Bias and Discrimination in the Healthcare Setting

These efforts are significant, but our work is far from done. Over the coming year, we will continue to build the infrastructure needed to support change and innovation, comprehensively assess the current climate and launch initiatives that foster a culture of inclusivity, appreciation and respect.

Establishing DEI as a driver of excellence requires a belief that it is part of who we are, not a hat we wear or a job someone holds. It is up to each of us to continue to propel our school’s action agenda for DEI forward. Through our collective commitment and concerted effort, the VCU School of Medicine is not only poised to help swing the national pendulum further toward justice and equality but to “make it real” for members of our VCU community and beyond.

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