October marks Global Diversity Awareness Month, which serves as a time for us to recognize and celebrate the positive impact diverse voices have within our school, our community and our society as a whole. It also is a time to reflect on the obstacles and barriers that keep many from achieving true equity as well as the steps we can take, as an academic medical center and as individuals, to change that reality.
Last Wednesday, as part of Global Diversity Awareness Month, we had the privilege of hosting our School of Medicine’s inaugural diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lecture, which featured Dr. Geoffrey Young, senior director for student affairs and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
During his insightful and relevant presentation, Dr. Young spoke of how “George Floyd’s cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ under the knee of a police officer for eight minutes and 46 seconds resonated with many in this country in an urgent and different way,” prompting a reckoning with race at academic medical centers across the country – including our own.
In response to nationwide calls for social justice, our VCU School of Medicine, as well as the AAMC, University of Toledo College of Medicine, UT Health – San Antonio, Mount Sinai, Emory University and the University of Michigan, made statements committing ourselves to DEI and to fighting systemic racism. (You can read our DEI statement here.)
Dr. Young applauded our efforts to “initiate critical conversations addressing systemic racism, health care inequities and social determinants of health and its role in systemic racism” since “addressing our history, our present reality and our future really must … consist of multidirectional, multidimensional communication.” However, this is just a first, albeit crucial, step in ensuring that “every person is provided the opportunity to attain their full potential.”
Doing this work and making real and lasting change, relies on each and every one of us. Because of that, Dr. Young called on us to examine our own “agency” – our spheres of influence and control, what / whom we publicly advocate for, the way we frame and deliver messages, where we allocate resources and how we use data.
We are most grateful to Dr. Young for providing such a gifted, thoughtful and also thought-provoking presentation. He has set a high bar for our annual SOM DEI lecture. If you were unable to join us for this event, I encourage you to watch the recording, which is posted on our school’s DEI website. There also will be a number of other opportunities in the coming months for us to continue to learn, reflect and engage with DEI topics, so please monitor the events listing on the DEI page.
We welcome your continued input, advocacy and leadership as we progress on this vital journey together.