This Sunday is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Juneteenth is the oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, finally heard that the Civil War had ended and learned of their emancipation.
Juneteenth was first designated as an official state holiday in Virginia in 2020, during a summer of social unrest in our city, commonwealth and nation. It serves as an opportunity for us to acknowledge and reflect on a period in our recent past that continues to shape our present and future. As the racially motivated violence in Buffalo, New York, demonstrated last month, racism, injustice and hate remain persistent threats for Black Americans.
Here in our School of Medicine – in partnership with the university and health system – we are committed to doing better for our learners, faculty and staff as well as for our community. With last year’s launch of the inaugural School of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), we are better positioned to harness the collective talent within our school to create meaningful, sustainable change.
Over the past 18 months, with the advocacy and support of our students and support from the DEI Office, we have taken a hard look at our undergraduate medical curriculum through an anti-bias, anti-racist, DEI lens. A curriculum committee led by student advocates developed more than 100 recommendations to address bias and inclusion with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, ability and socioeconomic determinants of health. More than a third of those recommendations, all of which relate to pre-clinical training, have been addressed. Plans for implementing the clinical recommendations are being developed.
In addition, we have partnered with the University of Virginia to bring Stepping in 4 Respect to our campus. This program helps create a culture of respect and inclusion by addressing bias and discrimination that occurs in clinical settings. So far, 20 MCV Campus faculty and staff have been trained as trainers, and they are conducting workshops with clinical, academic and administrative units campus-wide.
The School of Medicine also partnered with the VCU Office of Health Equity on the History and Health Initiative, which provides opportunities to learn from past shortcomings and mistakes to inform future actions. The History and Health Initiative includes virtual sessions and companion online learning modules that engage learners, faculty, staff, health care providers and community members in conversations regarding racial and health equity.
We still have work to do to ensure we are providing a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for all our patients, learners, faculty and staff. An essential part of that is continuing to learn from the past so that we can – and will – do better in the future. Thank you for your commitment, engagement, direction and support.
David Chelmow, M.D.
Interim Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Interim Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System
Kevin Harris, Ph.D., MSA
Senior Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion